Working teens find balance;

earn experience

Zaara Syeda and Khadijah Halim

Teens tend to juggle responsibilities from classwork to large amounts of homework to prepare for college or other paths they decide to take in life. Along with these academic responsibilities, some students have a job; some through the work internship program.

As students choose classes for next year, juniors might select work internship as an elective. The course is for seniors only. 

Work internship teacher Angelina Haney said, “The first part of the class is the actual classroom part.”

Haney teaches students about the job application process including resumes, cover letters, and interviewing.  They also learn essential skills for the workplace, ranging from labor laws to teamwork and business math. 

“We also talk about credit cards, insurance, how to do your taxes, budgeting, careers, college, lots of useful life stuff,” Haney said.

“The second part is the work part of it. All the students in my class have a job outside of school… and they have to work about fifteen hours per week or more. They get to leave school early every day, and they get high school credit for their job,” Haney said.

Students enrolled in the program attend school during the first four periods and have the option of taking early bird or a fifth period.

“I had the ability to join the work internship program last semester, but instead I tried to do some AP classes and extra classes, but I kind of realized that I wasn’t really enjoying that and just wished I could work more to save for college,” senior Michael Flavin said.

“So this semester I joined the work internship program, so I could start working basically full time. I can save for college because I already have all my credits for high school. I’ve just been trying to prepare myself for the next step,” Flavin said.

“This is a class that’s great for students who want to go to go to college, for students who want to join the military, or for students looking to graduate and start a job out of school right away because it’s a great way to make money to save up and get experience,” Haney said. 

With the ongoing pandemic, employment challenges emerged because of reduced hours initially, though this year the opposite seems to occur.

 “[The pandemic] affected it more last year,” Haney said.

“This year not so much because actually there’s a lot more accessibility to jobs, and I think students have actually had an easier time finding a job because of the pandemic. So many places are hiring and are short staffed or short handed,” Haney said.

“In a way, it has helped students … Students have been able to sometimes work more hours, maybe even see an increase in pay, so it’s actually been a little bit beneficial,” she said.

Despite easier access to jobs in a short-staffed environment, challenges arise as a result of fewer workers. 

Work internship student Kaitlyn Lee-Gordon, who works as a host in Olive Garden, said, “Working before COVID, people were a lot more patient, I want to say. Now that COVID has hit, the pandemic is scaring people.”

“A lot more people are quitting their jobs to be with their family which I totally understand; however, it has caused customers or people who are receiving service to be a little bit more impatient and tired. Everyone’s tired, but a lot more people are expressing that. They’re not as kind with it, so that’s a big problem,” Lee-Gordon said.

Along with these challenges, students must make sacrifices to manage time while staying on top of school and work. 

“Because I have a minimum amount of classes, it doesn’t make it that hard. But there are some people in the program who do have a lot more classes than I do and work the same amount, and it’s a juggle. Working itself has definitely lessened my time to do things that I want to do outside of work.Like I don’t hang out with my friends as often, and I don’t study as often. I don’t read as often,” Lee-Gordan said. 

Flavin said, “I think managing my time … is also making me feel more independent. Whenever I can fit stuff in, I try to do it. So it definitely has been teaching me time management skills for sure… It’s hard to find free time for sure.”

Some students not enrolled in the work internship program also have jobs and make similar sacrifices. 

Junior Juan Velazquez, a former employee of Kohl’s, said, “At times, you just really want to go home when you’re working. So it really puts a little stress on you. It [also] creates stress when you have like a lot of work you haven’t done yet, so then you have to stay up a little more instead of getting to sleep. So it really affects free time.” 

While these challenges and sacrifices teach students time management, teens also learn valuable skills such as saving money and social skills.

“It really did help me save my money, learn how to use it, not to use it. I guess communicating with people because I would communicate with customers, my coworkers, and I’d communicate with my boss… Since I was in retail, I’d have to help out a lot of people,” Velazquez said.

Despite distinct working environments, students display various reasons for working. In a poll of 143 students conducted by East Side News, 83 students said they work. Of those participants who work, 44 students said they work to save money for the future and 23 students said they work for pocket money. 

In a written response in the poll, junior Leslie Valerio wrote she works for “a means of learning independence and relieving the financial burden of expenses such as for school, books, food, or friend hangouts.” 

While balancing school and work proves a challenge for some teens, working also gives students a lot of life experience. Work internship can provide an opportunity for students to learn the ropes.

“By the time students hear about [work internship], sometimes it’s too late for them to be able to enroll in the program, and they miss out on the opportunity,” Haney said.

Speak to a school counselor or Haney if interested in the program.