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Eastside High School adds a barbershop class for students

Eastside High School recently introduced a class that is the first of its kind: a barbershop class.

“There were a couple kids who didn’t like to go to class and always got in trouble for skipping,” said class instructor Johnny Mallary. “One of the kids said, ‘Hey Mal, if they gave you a class to teach us how to cut hair, I’d never skip.’”

Mallary, who is a basketball coach at Lincoln Middle School, cuts the hair of a lot of Eastside High School students, which creates a special connection with them, he said. One of the kids inspired him to start the class.

The barbershop class was proposed over the summer and introduced this spring as a way to get students to attend class.

When the program began in January, only one or two kids showed up.

“But when they saw that it was actually me teaching the class and now about 10 come in every day,” he said. “It’s starting to pick up as far as the kids that want to learn the trade, they come in.”

Thomas Young, a senior at Eastside High School, is one of the first students to be a part of this program. He said that when the school added the class, he was excited for the opportunity and grateful.

Young plans to attend college but said that this could be the start of a different career path. “I feel comfortable here, surrounded by my friends,” he said. Thomas said he can pick up the blade and cut hair with confidence thanks to the class.

Mallary stands close by to guide the students in the process. He allows them to lead the cut but steps in to explain where the student went wrong.

Mallary’s curriculum is based mostly on participation, but there are quizzes and tests. Students must learn about the tools, how to clean up and what it takes to be a barber and about barbershop culture. The students work together to clean up and cut hair.

Mallary said that the culture of the barbershop is unmatched.

“It’s almost therapeutic,” he said.

Mallary grew up in Miami and would come to Gainesville to visit his aunt and get a haircut. He said that he would only get his haircut by one barber who was in and out of Gainesville.

Mallary said he explored the possibility of cutting his own hair when his barber left Gainesville for over a month and he began to grow an afro.

“He used to come up on the weekends from time to time, but one time he didn’t come for a month,” he said, “ and I couldn’t cut my own hair so I’d have to wait for him to come back.”

According to a study done by the White House, the number of chronically absent students, those who miss at least 10% or more of school days a year, has nearly doubled. Attendance in public high schools dropped drastically after COVID-19, according to White House studies.

In Florida, 20% of students missed school in 2018-2019, according to the Miami Herald, while in the 2021-2022 academic year, 32% of students missed school. According to Education Week, the percentage has gone down to almost 28% in the 2022-2023 school year.

Florida is among 11 states that have chronic attendance issues, according to Attendance Works.

Meanwhile, the cost of a four-year college institution has more than doubled in the 21st century with an annual growth rate of 6.8%, according toDegree Choices. Trade schools can cost between $5,000 and $15,000 for a three- to 18-month program, but there are grants the government offers.

Leroy Williams, the principal of Eastside High School, has been working in the Alachua County School system since 2004 and was recently named principal of the year. Throughout his career, he said he has seen a lot — but nothing quite like this.

“[The students] need to know they can be what they want to be,” he said, “we can help provide them with the tools.”

According to U.S. News, 54% of Eastside High School students are economically disadvantaged. Their graduation rate for the 2022-2023 school year was 93%, which is somewhat below the state median, but Williams said he aims to make it 100%.

“(A) principal has a lot of responsibility, but I also believe it’s our responsibility to educate our students and teach the students that you see the potential in them.”

He said that the school board and faculty recognize that not every child is going to college, so he wants to provide a platform for students to be productive members of society and the community, especially because they are on the east side of Gainesville.

“Students need a sense of purpose and a why,” he said.

Williams said he wants students to know that they can start their own businesses or go to college. He wants to give Eastside High School students the tools to graduate and succeed.

The program includes mainly seniors and juniors, but Mallary hopes he can teach freshmen so that by the time they graduate, they will be certified barbers.

Bianca is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing