Most students in high school are already stressed with completing their homework, studying for upcoming tests, and making time for extracurricular activities. Even with this in their daily schedule, about 51.2% of students at Salem High School have found the need to get a job in support of their families, future or their own improvement.
Already a part of the swim and volleyball teams, sophomore Brooklyn Miller started her job at Tumbleweed in June of this year. “I wanted to help my mom, and start saving for a car and college,” Miller said. Even though it has been a challenge, she said that she has loved being able to make friends outside of school, and her family has been very supportive of her decision to start working.
Sophomore Lilli Gilstrap decided to get her job at The Jolted Cow to show her parents that she was responsible enough to pay for a club-related trip. Originally, she had thought working would be easy, but she soon discovered that it wasn’t as easy as she had imagined. “I think that students who work are very strong. It’s hard to work, plus balance everything,” she said.
Junior Brianna Garner started working at The Rapid Fire Pizza/Jolted Cow in August of this year. “I wanted more independence with money, and to buy things for myself. I also needed a car,” Garner said. “It gives me glimpses of the real world, more independence, and I don’t have to borrow money from my parents.” Her parents have shared in her enthusiasm, and they support her fully, even visiting her while she is at work.
Time is a very important aspect to life. These students have found a way to balance their school, home and work lives, and have used the time that they are given in a day to keep up good grades and make money.
Spending 10-20 hours per week at her job, Garner takes advantage of the free periods in school so she doesn’t have to take time away from relaxing at home. “I try working fewer days for longer hours so I can be home more days. I go straight from school to work. It all works out and my job is very understanding,” Garner added.
Senior Sabra Smith, an employee at The Salem Crossing, said that she can work an average of 40-50 hours per week. She chose to start working because she wanted to get out of the house and do something, and her long hours have done just that for her. She has continued to reach her goal at keeping up good grades, as well. “I do my school work in my free time at school,” Smith said, “and I’m young and I love what I do.”
Working at two jobs, McDonald’s and Express China, freshman Cheyenne Brading has a full schedule. Spending an average of 31 hours per week between her jobs, Brading said that she tends to only have two hours of free time each day, which allows her to complete any homework or study. “I try to keep myself open, making time when I can for completing homework.” With her desire to gain more experience, her two jobs and the clubs that she participates in have been helping her meet those goals.
Junior Lanie Roberts works three hours per week at the local YMCA, but she is also part of the cross country, track, and basketball teams. “When I work I get home at 7:30 p.m.,” Roberts said, “so I have about an hour of free time. I balance my home, school and work life by doing my homework at school and work so that I can have time at home.” By going to all her activities, she has found respect for people who have to manage that or even more. “I think it’s impressive that people are able to balance work and school,” Roberts said, “and I think [work] hours need to be chosen carefully.”
With so many students having or looking for jobs, it is natural to wonder what employers are looking for when they are hiring.
YMCA’s Associate Executive Director Chelsey Miller said that they “look for students who are polite and engaging. Each position we hire for is different, but overall we work with the public, and having staff that engage people of all ages is what we need.” With past experience in working through high school, Miller said that “you can learn a lot of valuable lessons from working while in school, but it does take someone who can handle stress and is confident in learning new things. It wasn't always easy to multitask everything I had going on, but now I see the value of working while in school and the things it taught me about the workplace.”
YMCA’s Youth and Family Coordinator Hailey Jackson said that she looks for those that have a genuine interest in the specific job that she is hiring for. In addition, she is also looking for those who are patient and understanding. “In my opinion,” Jackson said, “you have to possess time management skills as you are maintaining school work in addition to a part-time job. I felt like it provided me with additional responsibility that I genuinely enjoyed. Now, I feel the same; I feel as though it provides students the opportunity to grow professionally.”
Knowing the stresses of working while in school, both Jackson and Miller allow their staff to complete any school work while there. Of course, all tasks must be completed before they are able to put time into their homework.
With teachers being present in these students’ lives on a daily basis, they have an understanding of what the most difficult things for students to accomplish are.
Principal Troy Albert has found that “attendance is the greatest concern with working late evenings. The grades are affected by attendance or lack of attendance vs. [school]work completion.” Albert has noticed that some students are able to balance their work well, and some are even excelling when they can manage to get things done. “Some are great employees and great students that manage their time well,” he said, “but finding the blend of time working at school is always a concern.”
History teacher John Heavin could not find any clear correlation between student employment and low classroom grades. “I generally see ‘sameness,’” he said. “Students are generally able to maintain their grades while employed. "A" students remain "A" students, "C" students remain "C" students, etc. It takes a diligent worker/student, one who can carefully budget his or her time” to be able to work while in school.
Spanish teacher Heather Nale said she thinks when students first get jobs, they struggle with time management. “It can be a challenge to rework their schedule to fit in time for work, sports, friends, school work, and sleep,” she said.
History and algebra teacher Michelle Medlock found “for some, working is just another part of their responsibilities, and they have found ways to balance school and work. Others haven't been able to find that balance, and work is the more important priority to them.” Some of her students have become more responsible after they got their job, but there are still others who haven't learned to be responsible with their school work even after they got their job.
“The most important issue is completing the high school diploma and maximizing the potential of each student,” said Albert. “We need all students to finish the graduation pathway and work to become contributing community members.”
Knowing that both work and school can be overwhelming, Nale has noticed higher stress levels in some of her students. “Students just have to be willing to prioritize their work, school, and personal lives. It can be a challenge, but sometimes students don't have an option on whether they need to work through high school.”
Of course, there are concerns about the welfare of the students who are working. Grades, attendance, and balance are the obvious concerns, but some of these students could be missing out on their childhood.
Working through high school, Medlock soon discovered that she was missing out on some things with friends or activities that would have been nice to do. “I think that some students don't realize everything they could be missing as they attempt to work all the hours they can.” Medlock warned. “I hope they can handle realizing what they might've missed by working instead. Or realize now while still in school how to better balance it all.” Looking back, she said that it was okay that she didn't get to do some of those fun things, she needed the money to pay for gas and insurance, and to save for college.
“I think having a job in high school is a valuable experience,” Medlock added, “and I hope students can find a good balance between work and school.”
“The amount of good advice and experiences you learn through working while in school is invaluable.” Miller said. “To be able to balance working and being a student is not easy, but something that will help you grow. If you have extracurricular activities, then that can just add to balancing more pieces.”
“Early employment can be a springboard to bigger and better things.” Heavin said, “Young people (anyone, really) should strive to be clean and courteous on the job, hard working and punctual.”