One of the things she's asked for are some special effects shot with sparklers, like this:
Reading through that tutorial, the shot calls for second curtain sync. And I am familiar enough with flash photography to understand why that is the preferred technique.
I don't think you actually need 2nd curtain for these shots. Second curtain prevents things like tail-light streaks from going through cars when doing long exposure w/flash of moving cars (or of any movement where direction is important), but for the sparkler thing, when the flash happens isn't that important as long as you know when it will flash.
Both pictures in that article actually appear to be done first curtain to me. Otherwise, (with the first one) they'd need to have written the word backwards to be at the front when the (2nd curtain) flash fired (or use an assistant to write after the pose, but before the flash). What I think they did was pose for the shot with a lit sparkler, open the shutter (with 1st curtain flash), and then wrote the word, closing the shutter (w/o flash) at the end. The second pic doesn't matter so much, as it could have been done both ways:
With 1st curtain: pose, open(flash), mess with sparkler, close(no flash).
With 2nd curtain: open(no flash), mess with sparkler, pose, close(flash).
If there is too much ambient light, the poses would need to be held throughout the exposure, with assistants doing the writing. If flash is the only light on subject, they only need to be in position for the flash part of the exposure.
I'd probably shoot these with first curtain. It just seems easier. Keep in mind that some subjects (most, in my experience) have no idea what a long exposure is, and associate the sight of a flash as being 'the picture'. It can help to let them know what you're doing so they 'perform' when needed, and not spoil the shot.
(BTW, I agree that hiding the curtain controls from non-Canon flashes is silly)