Carson City's Sierra Academy of Style celebrates 100th graduate

Sitting in class when she was younger, Hanna Masters took to styling other girls’ hair without realizing it. She developed such a knack for it, it became her dream.

“I wanted to make other people feel good about themselves and be happy with how they look,” she said.

Masters followed her passion to Sierra Academy of Style in Carson City to learn about cosmetology after graduating from high school locally and touring the school. As it turned out, she’d become a special student of the school this month as the owners celebrate her as their 100th to graduate from their school at 1851 S. Roop St, #100.

“We opened in May 2, 2017, and we had a huge enrollment of three students in this big, big place,” Brandy Gayner, co-owner said. “We graduated one student in 2017, and then 2018, 2019, and now 2020, it ends up being our 100th graduate.”

Husband and wife co-owners Anthony and Brandy Gayner decided Carson City needed its own place apart from Reno’s schools, such as the Milan Institute of Cosmetology, the International Academy of Style or the Paul Mitchell School, for locals to study how to provide personal care services for hair, skin and nails. SAS originally offered classes for students in or near Carson City requiring 1,600 hours in cosmetology courses on a part-time or full-time basis for aestheticians, nail technicians and hair design.

“Carson City had such a need,” Anthony said. “You had the three great schools in Reno. We’re such a small community, it made sense to get Carson City on its feet. It’s been great.”

“It’s been exhausting but exciting,” Brandy said. “We’ve learned so much about the industry. We’re excited to say we’re going to get accredited.”

The Gayners call Masters as their 100th graduate their “second biggest milestone” but already look ahead to their accreditation as their third most significant. When the process is complete, the academy will be able to accept student loans and SAS will open doors for more students to come and enrollment to grow incrementally, Anthony said. Currently, students are paying for classes on their own. They’ve chosen to invest in four years’ worth of classes, and he said there aren’t any “free rides.”

But while the students already were working hard, the tough time came in March when COVID-19 caused businesses like theirs to shut down, and the harrowing impact did cause the Gayners to reexamine how to get clients back in the door when it came time to help their students again.

“We lost 75 percent of our business because of that,” Anthony said.

The Gayners said they already were strict on standards before Gov. Steve Sisolak and the state called for more sanitization for barber shops and hair and nail salons, but they became much more “meticulous” about how they went about enforcing their cleaning and disinfecting policies, Anthony said. Masters said she often spends about 20 minutes disinfecting her station and tools at a time.

“The salon has followed these guidelines,” Anthony said. “We don’t like to use kindergarten rules, but we tell everyone to clean their spot. There’s no co-mingling, no hanging out.”

“We can’t wait for the day when we don’t have to say, ‘Six feet apart, ladies!’ ” Brandy said.

To try to get clients to come back to keep their students learning, the owners have provided free services to first-time visitors. Many of SAS’ customers are older and were unsure of coming out, especially just after March, he said. Much of the school’s instruction itself depends on hands-on learning, but the pandemic forced instructors and students to take to Zoom to keep going, the couple said.

Some students remained active while others chose to take time off to find other work. Keeping enrollment up wasn’t easy.

Masters, who said she prefers hands-on learning, said she was willing to dedicate herself to the academy, but found it difficult without the practical experience.

“You can do bookwork and stuff, but I prefer working with clients and practicing that way,” she said. “You need to know your stuff.”

Brandy said it took a toll for those who wanted the education only certain trade schools provide.

“A lot of our students aren’t so much book learners anyway,” she said. “That’s why they were going into a trade school. We were giving them nothing but bookwork, and it was hard for them.”

But lead instructor Kelly Lauderbaugh said Masters overall has shown her strengths through the program.

“Hanna’s doing great,” she said. “She’s really come out of her shell. Hanna’s so funny, and she doesn’t mean to be, and she’s so talented. She wants to better her life with this career. … I honestly don’t see any weaknesses. She may mess it up and not tell me, but I see it in the end. She’s a good student. It’s always the good ones that have to leave so soon.”

To graduate, students have to complete the required 1,600 hours of classes, receive 75 percent in their academics and agree to pay their tuition. They must also complete their two-hour practical exams, when they’re evaluated by the State Board of Cosmetology. Students demonstrate how to do a haircut, perm and facials. Masters recently passed the nails portion of her exam and this week was expected to go to Reno for the written portion.

Assuming she passes all portions and receives her license by the end of the month, she already has a job offer at a new salon in Dayton, the Gayners said. Although she was meant to have graduated in June had COVID-19 never happened, Masters said with “little steps back,” she knew she would graduate.

“No one goes through this all the time,” she said.

Anthony and Brandy said they were proud to have Masters be their 100th graduate, and while they have kept to strict standards, they’ve also tried to keep the atmosphere fun and spread the message to others interested in learning about the beauty industry that it can be “recession-proof,” he said.

“With enrollment going through the roof, it has to do with layoffs and unemployed and everything, a lot of these people realize they have passion for the beauty industry,” he said. “Because every one has hair, skin and nails, and everyone wants some type of service.”

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