A breath of fresh hair: Before-school hairstyling preps students for organized, confident days

Cassia Catterall with the Gillette News Record, via the Wyoming News Exchange

School staff and volunteers help students with their chosen hairdos Wednesday morning in school counselor Nicole Schatz’s office at Meadowlark Elementary School in Gillette. Schatz, second from left, initiated a “Morning Routine” program recently to empower students as they start their school days. Photo by Ed Glazar, Gillette News Record.

Salon owner Kaitie Shaw braids a student’s hair Wednesday before school starts at Meadowlark Elementary School in Gillette. Photo by Ed Glazar, Gillette News Record. 


GILLETTE — Every few minutes Wednesday morning, a new student stood in front of a full-body mirror hanging in Nicole Schatz’s counseling room.

Some of the students at Meadowlark Elementary School raised their eyes slowly, shyly looking at their reflection, as a smile made its way up their cheeks. Others raised their hands to twirl braids around their fingers, grinning excitedly at their transformed look before taking off to the library or gym.

“It’s a party in here,” Aaliyah Barrera, 8, shouted with a raise of her arms for emphasis. And she was right. As 30 to 40 students came and went that morning, a feeling of excitement never left the room.

The space that normally offers solace to students in the elementary school was filled with the smell of leave-in conditioner and the effort of two volunteer stylists from The Hair Room and other school volunteers who came in early to enforce organization, hygiene and daily routines for students through styling their hair. 

Schatz came up with the event that went on early Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings to meet academic behavior goals within the building and also promote enthusiasm for school and self-confidence.

The energy she wanted was scattered throughout the children as one question kept popping up over and over. The question was passed between friends and acquaintances who sat in close quarters, patiently waiting for their turn as a client in the volunteer hair stylists’ chair: “What are you going to get done?”

Hope Greenway, 8, walked out of Schatz’s room with two buns side by side on the top of her head.

“I think the buns are super cute and they’re like, so poofy and swirly, they’re so cute,” she said with a smile. “This is special because my mom normally puts it in a ponytail or something but nothing like this.”

Hope pointed out that on any school day, she has to get dressed and brush her teeth before getting “all this other stuff done.” That doesn’t leave much time for special hairdos.

But Kaitie Shaw, Jessi Runyon and Schatz were working hard to make sure everyone got their time each morning to feel special. And as the morning wore on, more and more teacher volunteers also made their way in to try and give everyone in the overflowing seats a ‘do before school began.

Schatz came up with the idea based off of a Books and Braids event at Hillcrest Elementary School. But she wanted to include an even wider audience.

“I just got a tug on my heart to be more inclusive because boys also need that time,” she said.

Anyone walking out of a salon could probably attest to the fact that they feel sleeker than when they first go in. There’s something about the sharp, clean cut and style that impacts how someone carries themself, resulting in a little more strut to a step.

Schatz is hoping the three days of styling also result in students understanding the importance of hygiene, getting ready for school and organization, an initiative the entire school has been working on throughout the year. Each morning, students also received a handout with a morning routine that included items like brushing their teeth, eating breakfast and making their bed and a hygiene kit complete with a brush and conditioner.

The second day in, many of the kids were checking with their neighbors to see if they’d completed the list.

Daniela Bonilla, 7, said that she had achieved everything on the list Wednesday.

Her friend Ana Chalvez, 7, was curious about the time it took to get everything done before school.

“Did you get up at like 1:00?” she asked.

“No, like six something,” Daniela clarified.

Although the brushing of teeth and getting dressed were generally checked off by all students, making the bed proved the most difficult, something adults may still understand.

The program’s aim was also to strengthen from a school authority that organizational skills parents teach at home are important.

“I wanted to also help those families that a lot of times want us to reinforce these things,” Schatz said. “A lot of the time, they’re trying to do these things at home but kids think, well, if it’s coming from school it must be important.”

For fourth grader Karson Garcia, the new hairdo made him feel like he was ready for classes throughout the day. Normally, he combs his hair to the side but since it was shorter, Jon Urman, the school’s instructional facilitator, helped him use conditioner to spike it up and give it character.

“I don’t really get my hair styled, I mostly just get my hair cut,” he said. “So this is kind of new for me.”

Hope and another of her friends also said that the hairstyle almost made them feel stronger. For Hope it was the space buns that sent the extra zap of energy but for her friend, it was two french braids. And after a few days of the event, Schatz saw the mindset changing throughout the school.

“It’s just been so cool to walk around the building and see all these kids’ hair done,” she said. “Some of the teachers came up to me and said kids are more energetic coming in the morning instead of sulking when they get to school. It seems like they’re excited to go to class.”

The efforts proved that although some kids may think that organization starts when a day begins at school, it’s really from the moment a person first wakes up in the morning. By having daily routines set, kids and adults both know what to expect every day and Schatz pointed out that if something doesn’t go quite as planned, which is wont to happen, a plan helps students jump right back into where they should be.

“I think hopefully this will also bring kids to school on time,” Schatz said of the routines. “A lot of times that’s in the parents’ control but at the same time, if kids are ready and doing all these things, it helps the parents.”

As students left the room after checking themselves out in the mirror surrounded by motivational affirmations, Schatz, Runyon and Shaw stood proud of their work. On any given day, Schatz makes the students stand in front of the mirror and give themselves a high five.

“They think it’s the funniest thing,” she said. “But it’s all about them knowing, I am my own best friend.”

Although it’s a small thing, the fresh styles and updos gave students walking out the door a new way to look at themselves and perhaps even the confidence to see themselves as that friend for the first time.


This story was published on Nov. 19, 2022.


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