Seattle Public Schools

Chief Sealth Barbershop

Summary: An in-school barbershop is helping students connect, reach career goals at Chief Sealth

Creating a Buzz: Students Learn and Build Community at In-School Barbershop

When the pandemic caused the world to shut down in 2020, it left many families without an income and searching for a place to fill their basic needs. Many schools rallied their communities to help create food pantries, offer clothing, and provide household goods. However, once the pandemic was over, some of those schools were left with an abundance of supplies and no one seeking to utilize them. 

Chief Sealth Staff Member Shanyn Gilio-Tenan smiles at camera

At Chief Sealth International High School, Shanyn Gilio-Tenan, one of the school’s social workers, said the community closet had become a dumping ground for people wanting to purge unwanted clothing and supplies. Gilio-Tenan, along with Student and Family Advocate and Restorative Justice Coordinator Johnny Jefferson, decided it was time to revamp the room into something more useful. The choice was obvious: create an in-school barbershop. 

In Black and Brown communities, the barbershop isn’t just a place to get a fresh fade. It’s a place where community comes together. The spaces are full of energy, laughter and oftentimes, mentorship. It’s an atmosphere the school is trying to recreate with its barbershop. 

Chief Sealth Staff Member Johnny Jefferson smiles at camera.

According to Jefferson, students were already coming to him for haircuts – at first to get one, but soon, students wanted to hone their own skills. During lunch, he taught haircutting techniques and allowed them to practice their skills on him and each other.  

Gilio-Tenan was able to secure three barber chairs and mirrors. Jefferson, with the support of staff, tapped into a network of barbers from around the region. Gilio-Tenan stocked the room with clothing, school supplies, personal hygiene items, and more to create a one-stop shop for everything students need to feel good about themselves. 

Now, the room is buzzing with students and families using the barbershop as a place to connect and learn. The school hosts workshops every Tuesday for students hoping to learn how to give haircuts or how to braid. 

“We have [Seattle] Skills Center, and we have trades for construction, for maritime … we have all these trades, but we have a lot of kids who want to go into cosmetology,” Gilio-Tenan said. “They want to go into hair, they want to go into nails, they want to go into lashes … we want we want to be able to offer that.” 

For Jefferson, the barbershop has helped build stronger connections with students who may be struggling academically or with attendance. The impact was profound. Truant students, once disconnected from academia, found themselves drawn back by the promise of a fresh start and a stylish new look. 

“You get a kid that has low self-esteem or doesn’t have the money to afford a haircut and … it gives us the ability to talk to them while we’re giving a haircut,” he said. “That’s a perfect opportunity for us to figure out what’s been going on.”  

The school uses the barbershop as a resource for students before big events like school dances or holiday breaks – times when they are most likely in need of a trim. The space is open to families as well. 

For some students, the barbershop is more than a haven; it’s a training ground for future aspirations. Under the guidance of seasoned barbers, students hone their skills while cultivating a sense of responsibility and pride — one trim at a time. 

“I think what we’re doing is creating a hub for our community,” said Chief Sealth Principal Ray Garcia-Morales. “We have this convergence of identities, cultures, religions, all these different aspects who make us who we are. We truly are an international school.”