Balancing the books
Teenage workers juggle school, work and family
The sign outside Sonic on Church Street advertised available jobs at the restaurant, especially daytime shifts now that summer help is back in school or moved on to college.
Yet manager Blake Rowlison said he was in pretty good shape, although he had to hire several more employees.
"I maybe lost one or so," he said. "They can usually work a little bit, even if it's just a little on the weekend."
Eudora High School junior Jason Wyrick feels the crunch of working as a cook and server at Simple Simons and going to school.
"I wake up, go to school, go to work, go to sleep," he said. Wyrick works most days after school, and he comes in at 8 a.m. weekends to make the dough, which means no partying, he said.
The main reason Wyrick works is to pay for his 1993 Ford Probe and the insurance that runs him almost as much as his car payments.
At age 15, he started the job over a year ago after learning about the restaurant at a school job fair. Then, he had to leave at 7 p.m., but now that Wyrick is 16 he stays until 10 p.m. Eudora High School counselor Brian Kraus said he knew a lot of high school students who worked during the school year. For most of them, he said, work provides a way to pay for their cars and auto insurance.
According to family systems specialist Charlotte Shoup Oleson at the Kansas State University Research and Extension, earning money toward a goal like an automobile keeps teens' money occupied. That way, they don't have a lot of extra cash lying around to spend on alcohol and drugs. Also, the goal of working shouldn't just be to acquire more and more stuff, she said.
But a car gives them more mobility, making it easier to participate in extracurricular activities.
"That can get out of balance if it's a car that's way beyond their means," Oleson said. "That can push them to do more and more work. Where it's a sensible choice, it can give them a goal, and that's beneficial to meet other goals in their life than just having total spending money."
Age determines how much and what a student can do at a job. Most younger high school students baby-sit, Kraus said. He said restaurants also hire younger students for specific in hopes they will continue to work when they turn 16 and other jobs are open to them. Many students work at Dairy Queen, Sonic, Gambino's and Simple Simons, Kraus said.
Although many teens find employment at fast food restaurants and grocery stores, the best working environment for them depends on the individual community, Oleson said.
Working, even during the school year, can have some beneficial results on students, Kraus said, like teaching them responsibility and time management.
"They find out that when they get into the world of work they have to learn communications skills, how to get along with all types of people," Kraus said. "Just the things adults put up with every day."
Working at the same place for more than a year allowed Wyrick to go from working as a cook to a management position.
Fellow Simple Simons worker Stephanie Lagerstrom, an EHS senior, said her schedule didn't interfere with her extracurricular activity, participating in the color guard. Sometimes juggling school, work and activities forced her to be more organized, she said. Her earnings will go toward her college education, which she hopes to get at Kansas State University.
Kraus advised working students to try and limit their hours to 20 a week. "After that, something has to suffer," he said.
Oleson recommended a more stringent schedule, working no more than 10 to 15 hours per week.
Usually what suffers is grades or extracurricular activities, Kraus said. Studies indicate extracurricular activities tend to keep students away from drugs and alcohol, he said.
Academics and extracurricular activities suffer because students' jobs can leave them too fatigued.
"They have to have vitality during the day when they're in the classroom," Oleson said. "If they're exhausted, they're not sharp during the day."
Working students can achieve a desirable halfway point.
"The ultimate thing comes down to balance and determining what the necessity is for the money and the balance of work with school, extracurricular activities and family life," Oleson said.