Just a few months ago construction crews were working on drywall, light fixtures and plumbing at the Kern High School District Regional Occupational Center's newest educational centers.

Now students are in the "classroom" gaining hands-on skills that make pursuing careers in cosmetology, culinary arts, veterinary technician, automotive technology and construction trades achievable.

The total cost of the project was around $25 million, according to Principal Brian Miller.

COSMETOLOGY

Rows upon rows of salon, manicure and pedicure stations fill the cosmetology center, along with three aesthetician beds. Seventy-five seniors are enrolled in the program, where they complete 1,600 hours of training in order to qualify to take the state board exam to become a cosmetologist, Miller explained.

"They spent the first five to six months of training in the classroom, practicing on each other, the mannequin heads, getting the skills needed to start working on clients," he said. "Now, the last two-thirds of their training is going to be primarily spent operating the salon."

Some students on Thursday were using mannequins to apply highlights using foils, while others were painting nails. Students also get customer service experience by managing the front desk.

Being the first cohort of students has been a trial and error process, said Alexis McCune, but learning different skills has been more than worth it.

"It's pretty intense," said McCune of the curriculum, which has consisted of learning different hairstyles, color processes, facials and nail care. "We kind of just go with it, try to make things work, and if it doesn't we just have to find new ways."

The salon will be open to the public following a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 10 a.m. Wednesday. Friends and family members of students will be able to take advantages of services that day, with regular appointments starting Thursday. Various salon products will also be sold.

Appointments can be made at www.envisiongo.com/a/rocsalon or by calling 396-4918. The salon is open 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday through Friday.

CULINARY ARTS

Unlike the other new educational centers, students enrolled in the culinary arts program stepped into their kitchens last month due to ongoing construction. But on Thursday they wasted no time whipping up breakfast items and special Valentine's Day-themed desserts. 

Students divide their time among three sections — cooking, baking and restaurant management. In the cooking lab, run by chef Justin Casey, students have begun selling their tasty creations in the student snack bar. Thursday morning they were preparing scrambled eggs, sausages and potatoes for their breakfast burritos. With romance in the air, young bakers prepared cake pops and chocolate- and vanilla-covered strawberries with the assistance of baker Sayra Ovalles.

The ROC cafe and bakery will be run by students, where they will learn customer service skills on top of their culinary training. Miller hopes to open it to the public in April.

Most of the students in the program already had a love for culinary arts, but the experience gives a deeper look into a possible career.

"I wanted to learn new recipes, learn how to make things from scratch, know how to fix mistakes that I make if I were at home baking," senior Arelly Navarro said.

VETERINARY TECHNOLOGY

The veterinary technology program was a remodel project, and now students are operating a fully functional animal hospital, which will be open to the public soon for basic veterinary and grooming services.

Three instructors — veterinarians and a veterinary technician — help students as they navigate through the program. The facility includes a reception area, three exam rooms, a pharmacy, wet and dry surgery preparation areas, X-ray room, grooming station and kennels.

Hands-on experience has started at the clinic with students learning how to perform CPR on animals and even how to neuter a rabbit, which they did Thursday. On Friday, shelter animals came in for a bit of grooming.

With so much space and advanced technology available, Miller hopes to invite other veterinary programs to use the facility.

AUTOMOTIVE TECHNOLOGY

Cars come into the ROC's improved auto shop with services needing to be done and come out revving like new thanks to the 125 students in the program.

The shop includes 10 bays and six lifts. Some of the services students can provide include tire rotations, wheel alignments and oil changes. 

"One of the features we put in here that you won't find in most school auto shops is there is a small reception area up front," Miller explained. "Most of them come in here and they're great at learning how to do all the technical skills, but a lot of them lack that customer service side."

The auto shop will be open to the public with online appointment booking coming soon.

CONSTRUCTION TRADES

One might think they are on the set of a HGTV home construction show when they walk into the ROC construction trades center. Students have constructed the exterior of a home that will include a kitchen, laundry room, bedroom and two bathrooms.

Homebuilder Chad Wright helps students with residential construction training.  A culminating project will be building tiny houses. Future cohorts will deconstruct the leftover homes, allowing them to see the homebuilding process in reverse.

Senior William Weighall enjoys doing motorcycle mechanics at home, so it's been fun for him to work with his hands in the construction shop. This is his second year at the ROC — last year he was in the business, banking and finance program — and while the two seem different, the skills he has learned from both will come in handy for the final project.

"I'm the project manager so I'm putting together all the purchase orders for the material, I'm going through blueprints and I'm learning how to do everything else as well because my hope is in the next year to get my general contractor's license," he said.

Ema Sasic can be reached at 661-395-7392. Follow her on Twitter: @ema_sasic.

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