After a full two-days of pampering, hair, makeup and style advice, Sandra Quinteros, 37, a guidance counselor at Riverhead Middle School, is heading back to school this year with new found moxie and confidence.

She is Newsday’s 2021 Teacher Makeover winner and says the process helped her feel “more adventurous, more fierce and … more standout. People are going to ask, ‘Who is this new counselor?’ “

Nominated by her best friend, Daniele Perez, Quinteros is one of many of educators looking to emerge from what has been a more than challenging year-and-a-half on a fresh foot with a new and improved look as they return to in-person classrooms across Long Island. Scores of them entered our makeover contest this year. And while we salute them for their heroic efforts during difficult times, alas, we could only choose one.

MEET OUR WINNER

It took Quinteros 16 years of study and rising through the ranks to attain her position at the very school she enrolled in at the age of 13 when she came here from El Salvador speaking, she says, “about 10 words of English.”

She started her job only six months before the pandemic hit, worked a hybrid schedule, and, got COVID-19, which she says caused her to lose “chunks of hair,” some of it ultimately growing back.

Perez, 36, who says Quinteros was among her first friends when she came to Riverhead Middle School from Guatemala as a teen nominated her because, “She goes above and beyond as a guidance counselor and it’s been such a hard year. I want her to feel good.” Perez works as a liaison/translator between the Spanish-speaking community and the school district. “And she can use the fashion help,” she adds.

For Quinteros, an ENL (English as a New Language) and general guidance counselor, career-wise, “This is what I’m meant to be doing.” It wasn’t always easy for the single mother. “But I kept on hearing that little voice from my own ENL teacher when I first came here telling me that I could do a lot more with my education than just finishing high school. Now, I’ve come full circle and I’m back to where I began.”

Sandra Quinteros, 37, a guidance counselor at Riverhead Middle School, was nominated by her best friend Daniela Perez. (Credit: Bruce Gilbert)

She’s still in touch with that teacher, Cheryl Zampiva, who retired in 2008. Says Zampiva, “Sandra was always really thirsty for knowledge. I couldn’t be more proud of her … There was something special about her and she always wanted to help with the Spanish-speaking students.” Zampiva’s influence is a constant for Quinteros. “I am in the position I am now because of her. And I want to do for my students what she did for me. I want to make them feel like they can achieve anything regardless of where they came from.”

LET THE PAMPERING BEGIN

Quinteros’ makeover journey began at nuBest Salon and Spa in Manhasset a few weeks ago. Creative Director Jamie Mazzei says her one-length curly hair “looked kind of boxy. I didn’t want to make it short, so instead I took off about an inch-and-a-half, cut a nice soft angle in the front and worked some longer layers through her hair,” helping address any thinning. “It has a nicer shape and we blew it with softer, loose beach waves that have some movement.”

When it came to color, well, Quinteros embraced the makeover as an opportunity to do something very different. “I always put these caramel highlights in my hair and I found some pictures of people with red instead and I thought they looked good.” So Christian Fleres, nuBest’s color director went for it, hand-painting red highlights and adding in a ruby red toner. “It’s that haircut I always dreamed of but never could get,” says Quinteros. “After this crazy year, it felt great to relax and be pampered. I felt like a queen. And I am definitely making a statement with my new hair. ’”

The next day, Quinteros whisked into the Newsday studio where a glam squad that included a makeup artist, hair stylist and fashion stylist eagerly awaited her. Her fashion goals? To dress for her job: “In my head I’m still in my 20s and I’m trying to balance that with dressing for my age and profession. I don’t want to look too young and I want to be professional but also cool. And I want to look taller.”

Stylist Samantha Brown brought in a slew of clothes from Macy’s that reflected the trends and would suit the guidance counselor’s petite barely five-foot-frame — vegan leather, animal print, colorful knits — but also add style and verve to her wardrobe. “I wanted to teach her how she could wear the trends, elongate her look and emphasize her waist,” says Brown. For her first ever professional make up session, makeup artist Ryann Figueroa taught her how to properly apply eyeliner, gave her individual lashes, saying, “I wanted her to look polished but not too different.”

After all the prep, the hair, the makeup, the clothes it was onto a full-on studio shoot — lights, camera, action. “I was thinking, ‘oh, this is what the models do,’ I was having a model experience,” says Quinteros. “I felt like a celebrity with a whole entourage following me.”

GUIDANCE FOR THE GUIDANCE COUNSELOR

Quinteros says she leaves the experience with the courage to “be more of a risk taker” when it comes to style.

“I would never have picked the clothes for myself but I loved them once I put them on, so from now on if I like something on a hanger I’m going to try it on,” she says. “I have always struggled to have a more sophisticated look and I learned how to do it. I definitely got a handle on how to up my look.”

Her bestie Perez says, “It was totally out of her comfort zone … It really boosted her self-esteem and energy.”

Adds Quinteros, “I’m going back to school more empowered with more confidence.”

Newsday 2021 Teacher Makeover Contest

Photo/video: Bruce Gilbert and Raychel Brightman

Multimedia journalist: Faith Jessie

Project manager: Anne Bratskeir

Editor: Meghan Giannotta

Stylist: Samantha Brown

Stylist assistant: Sophia Phillips

Clothing: Macy’s

Hair: nuBest Salon and Spa, Manhasset: Jamie Mazzei and Dawn O’Neill

Color: Christian Fleres

Makeup: Ryann Figueroa

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