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Meet the Rock Island middle schoolers serving style in an after-school braiding club

Step inside Washington Jr. High & you'll see students practicing box braids, knotless and everything in between as they weave together skill and creativity.

ROCK ISLAND, Ill. — There's an after-school club at Rock Island's Washington Jr. High that's weaving together style, creativity and entrepreneurship. 

Meet the braiding club! 

On Monday afternoons, interested middle schoolers learn different braiding techniques, equipment hygiene practices and customer service skills. 

Beyond turning a few heads, the club's goal is to foster ingenuity in young students. 

By the end of the school year, several braiding club members felt confident enough to practice on themselves, family and friends. Some, club organizers hope, might even go on to open their own salons one day. 

"Hair braiding is a cultural thing. It's art that's been passed down from generation to generation," said Lakeesha Worthey. "So this is just setting that groundwork for what may be to come. Not necessarily saying that everybody's going to be a professional hair braider, but it just plants the seed." 

Worthey owns Ace of Braids Hair Studio in Davenport, IA. When she's not busy giving trims or styling clients, she spends her afternoons teaching middle schoolers the ins and outs -- and overs, unders and throughs -- of professional hair braiding. 

From knotless to box braids and everything in between, the students gain confidence and skill. 

"We saw the opportunity to tap into those things, you know, and really uplift a lot of these kids who need it at this point in time in their life," said Larry Harris Jr., the coordinator for Lights On For Learning, which helps sponsor both the braiding club and Washington Jr. High's barbering club

What started off with only a few students has now ballooned into a popular after-school activity.

"It has taught me to be free," said seventh grader Nibitanga Rozine. "This is like an open space and if you're struggling you can ask anybody and they'll help you." 

Nearby, eighth grader Nahviyah Moore was busy demonstrating for some newer club members. 

"There's different braids you can do. It's like a different art," Moore explained. 

With a little bit of gel, determination and patience, she carefully separated her mannequin's hair into tiny sections, ready to weave in extra hair strands to craft an exact pattern and length. 

While she's not sure of her future plans just yet, Moore says hairstyling is not only a fun creative outlet, but also a possible career path. 

"Maybe when I get older I'll have my own business and start braiding," she said. 

After the success of both the braiding and barbering clubs this year, the Rock Island-Milan School District says both groups will be returning in the fall. Any student is welcome to try out either activity, regardless of gender or background. 

Officials say the success of these clubs should be a sign for other area school districts looking for new activities to offer. 

"It's just a lifelong skill. The hair braiding is a lifelong skill that you'll always have," Worthey said. 

A skill that ties together repetition, discipline and a whole bunch of talent; something guaranteed to turn a few heads. 

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