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Leading double lives, students struggle to maintain their priorities

By McDaniel Hartranft, ’17 and Olivia Van Arsdale, ’17

It’s 4 p.m. on a Thursday and senior Emily Song makes her way into Panera Bread, the restaurant she’s been working for since the summer of 2014.

She stands behind the cash register and starts her shift by ringing out the family dinner crowd. After the rush slows down and her hours are up, she closes down the store. She then walks over to the bakery to start cleaning up her designated spot. She begins mopping up the floor and at 10 p.m., if her manager approves, she goes home.

During the school year, Song has to schedule work differently than she does during summers.

“This year, I work weekends and I only have one or two nights in the school week,” Song said. “School is definitely my priority. Sometimes Panera will schedule me too many days of the week and I don’t do some of my homework and that gets in the way.”

Emily indicated that before she started her job she wouldn’t have worked without a monetary incentive.

“I have to pay for my gas and some of my phone bill too, and then also I just want the spending money,” Song said.

After having the job for a year, she now believes that the experience behind work is much more fulfilling than the paycheck.

“Before working, [money] was the main reason for having a job, but now I realize that there is so much more,” Song said.

Working at Panera has taught Song things that she believes aren’t in UAHS’ curriculum.

“I think that you learn so much by experience, it’s not just something you learn at school. The people that work there are some of the hardest working people I know, so you learn so much from them,” Song said.

Song has learned to appreciate other aspects of her experience as well.

“I value the work ethic and you can definitely tell from other customers if they have worked in the food industry before,” Song said. “I think definitely how much money I get helps, too. I think it’s worth it because I’ve learned a lot about how a business is run.”

Doubling Up

Upper Arlington is known for having a rather well-off demographic. According to the United States Census Bureau, the median household income rate for Upper Arlington in 2013 was about $97,000 per year, which was more than double the state of Ohio’s median of $48,000 and much higher than the national median of $51,000.

Additionally, while Ohio’s poverty rate hovers around 15.8 percent, Upper Arlington’s is at 4.6 percent. So, most minors in UA aren’t financially required to work because of a home situation that needs their economic support or self-sufficiency. However, working part-time while a student at UAHS is not uncommon.

In fact, some even hold multiple jobs. Junior Robert Geil is employed at two places: Graeter’s Ice Cream and local diner Chef-O-Nette, making for a total of four days and around 13 to 17 hours per week.

Geil said his work can sometimes feel burdensome, and it can be challenging to get homework done, even though he remains focused on school.

“Work is easier, but I know that I have to do school because I don’t want to be spending my life bussing tables for $8 an hour,” Geil said.

Geil said he originally applied for a job at his parents’ request, but since then his motivations have changed.

“But now [the job] is mostly for money,” Geil said. “The reason I picked up the second job at Chef-O-Nette is because I could’ve not worked during the school year, but I was like, I can handle working a little bit. And it’s nice to have a paycheck coming in every week.”

Work Perks

Student employment has recently been on the rise. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that school-age unemployment dropped from 11.7 percent to 10.1 percent in the summer of 2014.

To regulate student employment, the Department of Labor has federal rules for working teenagers in place. People under the age of 14 are limited to a short list of jobs including babysitting and newspaper delivery. For those between 14 and 15 years old, more jobs are available, but they cannot work more than three hours on school days or more than 18 hours per week. During summer, their working hours must be between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Students 16 and 17 can work unlimited hours within certain time constraints but are prohibited from jobs considered hazardous by the Secretary of Labor, such as coal mining and textile manufacturing. At age 18, all prohibitions are lifted.

Even with such restrictions, employment hours can pose problems for students.

“It definitely impacts my social life,” Geil said. “I’ve got a pretty good gig right now, where I’ve got standard hours, so I know when I’m not working. However, over the summer it was really challenging because I worked 30-plus hours a week at Graeter’s and I did not have a regular schedule. It was chaotic.”

Geil isn’t alone – according to research conducted by Brigham Young University, 64 percent of working students surveyed reported higher levels of stress because of working while in high school.

However, working as a teenager is shown by many studies to have a positive impact on a student’s life.

“It’s nice, because it provides a structured environment,” Geil said. “And it’s time I get to take my mind off of school and just be something else.”

Geil is one of many teens who enjoy their work. The National Institute of Health conducted research indicating that teens have very high job satisfaction rates in comparison to other demographics.

Additionally, those teens tended to report that their jobs helped them learn responsibility and how to manage time and money. They also tended to be more confident in social situations in comparison to unemployed students.

Tipping Point

On the mental health front, students who held jobs were much less likely to have a negative self-image or to feel overwhelmed and stressed, presumably due to having experienced and learned to handle stressors while working, according to the NIH.

However, they also reported that working comes with many risks. As the number of hours a student works increases past 20 in a week, their grades tend to decrease. Similar negative correlation occurs while looking at school absences and dropping out. However, effects of student employment are highly dependent on hours worked and the type of job in question, so direct trends are difficult to quantify for every situation.

“We find evidence that work experience can promote the healthy development of some young people, especially when it is moderate in intensity and steady in duration,” said the Youth Development Study.

Steady and occasional workers were found to be more likely to attend four-year universities, while students more invested in their jobs often attended community or vocational schools – those students moved much more rapidly towards “career-type” jobs that they viewed as their long-term option.

Additionally, students with jobs in high school are more likely to find part-time employment in college. Tuition is not the only issue on this front because college students often have to pay for housing, utilities, transportation, and textbooks. In a world where a cheap college experience is over ten thousand dollars per year, post-high school employment can be a lifesaver.

The College Board website strongly encourages working while in high school, however it cautions that balance is key.

“If working will interfere with completing schoolwork, participating in extracurricular activities, spending time with family and friends or getting enough rest,” the College Board website said, “it may not be a wise decision.”

Though Geil is currently working for minimum wage and does feel like his academic and social lives have been affected, he still thinks working is worth it.

“I’ve got a good balance going right now of school and work and free time,” Geil said. “It requires me to set aside more time to work and more time to do homework and prioritize time… it’s not that bad. Plus I get money, and money is good.”