HARLINGEN — She’s right back where she started but with a lifetime of experience to share with her students.

When Belinda Sosa finished the cosmetology program at the Harlingen school district 20 years ago, she might never have guessed she’d return some day.

But she has, bringing her vast experience and knowledge acquired while working for JC Penney to local aspiring cosmetologists. It all began when she herself was a student at Rio Hondo High School and traveling by bus to Harlingen for cosmetology class.

“They used to bus from schools all around the area and Rio Hondo was one of them,” she said. “We don’t do that now. The schools pretty much have their own cosmetology schools.”

The 2002 graduate of Rio Hondo High School immediately went to work for the JC Penney Salon, and she spent the next 18 years moving up in the company.

“I moved my way from a designer stylist to a master stylist,” she said. “A designer stylist is more entry level, maybe right out of school, doesn’t have a clientele yet, hasn’t built her business up. And a master stylist is someone who already has her business established and has clients coming in.”

She performed so well she ultimately became a regional trainer for company salons from Dallas to Louisiana. In that capacity she schooled stylist in the latest trends.

“Before I left the company, I was salon manager, and I was able to help increase the salon about $100,00 every year,” she said.

After 18 years, however, she determined that she’d grown up as a cosmetologist in the same company and left to explore options in the profession. It was at that interim that she came down to the Valley on vacation and met her high school cosmetology instructor Rachel Zuniga.

By this time, Zuniga had taught almost 30 years and was ready to retire. She offered to help Sosa get her instructor’s license to take over the program. And Sosa gladly accepted.

She moved to the Valley in September 2019 and went through the instructor’s program. Upon completion of the program in June 2020, the Harlingen school district hired her as a paraprofessional for a year.

“I started working on getting my teaching certification while I was assisting here and was able to step in and take on the teaching position here,” she said.

After a successful – and lucrative – career as a cosmetologist, why teaching?

The answer is simple.

“I just like being with the kids,” she said, “just seeing them get to be themselves and enjoy and laugh and learn and seeing the little light bulbs go off when they ‘get it’. To see them want to learn and want to get better, I don’t actually feel like I’m working.”

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