Beauty is in Maureen Saparito’s blood.
“My grandma was a hairdresser, and my cousin wanted to open a salon,” she said.
And the 16-year-old Barnegat High School junior is setting herself up for success in the same profession. She beat out a number of other Ocean County Vocational Technical School cosmetology students in the county’s recent SkillsUSA competition, and will now represent Ocean County at the state level.
Saparito, a student at the , decided to carve out time in her school day to study hairdressing in part because she wanted to pursue her passion, and also to better her chances at getting a job even before she gets her high school diploma.
It’s meant a lot hard work on her part. Her mornings start early, with a bus ride to Toms River for cosmetology class. “When I get back to school, I’ve missed an hour of my first class, so it’s hard to catch up,” she said, “but it’s worth it."
And it’s paying off. With encouragement from her instructor, Saparito entered the SkillsUSA competition, a contest for more than 300,000 vocational and trade school students around the country.
Other SkillsUSA contestants are tackling everything from public speaking to automotive repair. For Saparito, the competition meant executing a number of tricky styles on mannequins over the course of an hour and 40 minutes as a handful of judges stood behind her, watching. It was a little nerve wracking.
“They just kind of hover over you,” she said. “There’s no talking, no chewing gum.”
Pin curls, perm rollers, finger curls, a difficult updo executed without hair ties or pins – Saparito nailed them all. Twice. First, she ranked highest out of her classmates at the school’s competition, and then she was the top scorer in the regional contest, which drew competitors from five county schools.
Now she’s ready for the next step: the March 31 state SkillsUSA competition in Somerset County, where more than 1,600 students will challenge each other for the top spot in their chosen areas of study. Some will continue to the national level, but not Saparito. Even if she wins, she’s still a first-year cosmetology student, and the national competition is reserved for second-years.
But that doesn’t bother her. She’s already got her eye on the future. Once she completes 1,000 hours of schooling, she said, she’ll be able to get her cosmetology license.
“At the end of this year, I’ll get my permit so I can start working in a salon,” she said. She’ll also accrue credits toward a small business degree, and after graduation, she plans on heading to college.
In the meantime, thanks to OCVTS and her own efforts, she’ll be able to support herself doing something she loves.
“I like the way people react when you do a good job,” she said. “It’s just a good feeling.