Sophomore Molly Dixon has been working at PJ’s Pizza since before her freshman year of high school.
Making pizzas, bringing people their food, scooping ice cream, and ringing up customers has all become as much a part of Molly’s life as homework and school activities. Her tired legs take her from school, to home, to work, and back home again.
“It can definitely be stressful at times,” Molly said, “when I get home from school and I have half-an-hour or something to eat dinner or try to finish up any homework that I have, and I have to go to work for four hours.”
It’s a precariously balanced lifestyle, but it’s a lifestyle she’s learned to manage for over a year now. Molly has perfected the art of utilizing her time wisely to create time for everything her schedule demands.
Her job fills the empty space left by her decision to conclude her time participating in sports a year ago.
Working is an activity that requires a level of discipline that is not easily gained elsewhere. Focus, commitment, and perseverance are virtues Molly has developed and employed throughout her time on the job.
“I think it’s just a good trait to have all of your life — to focus on things — and it’s also given me something to do outside of school where I can focus my energy,” Molly said, “and it’s not a sport or physically draining or anything. [I’m] doing something with [my] mind and using it, but [I’m] not going to be tested on it or anything like that. It’s just a good outlet for me I think.”
This maturity that can only be gained through a real-life job is one of many reasons students start working in high school. Pressure from parents and an encroaching need for money can also contribute to the desire for a student to pursue a part-time job.
For junior Bryena Brown, it was a combination of these things; specifically, she needed money for her “beautiful car,” Mabel.
“A lot of kids our age are getting their licenses,” Bre said, “and so they have cars now. But then they have to pay for gas, and if they want to go out with their friends, they have to have money. [Our] parents are making [us] more independent since [we’re] old enough to be independent.”
Working at Old Navy has provided her with money and in turn, freedom. That freedom has awarded her valuable lessons that can only be acquired through experience; her knowledge of the simple complexities of the world has increased in the time she spends immersed in a real-life job.
Bre’s job requires her to spend more time interacting with people than she ever has before, and it has resulted in a significant decrease in the amount of time she spends on her phone. But a perhaps unexpected result of her time as an employee at Old Navy is the perspective she has gained from customers of all walks of life who come into the store.
“I think working teaches you a lot about yourself and other people around you and how the world works,” Bre said. “Working at Old Navy, I see a lot of different people. I see people with higher income and lower income, and it just puts the world in a different perspective.”
Having a job allows Bre to dip her toes into the waters of the adult world—the stresses, the rewards, and the simple realities of having less time to spend without care.
Something so simple as a first job can feel like the release of ropes that have been holding you back your whole life. While freeing, it’s disorienting to no longer have those ropes—parents, rules, constant supervision—there for support.
“You’re on your own,” senior Sam Werkema said. “You can’t rely on your parents for anything, and you have to be responsible with your own time and your own schedule.”
As an employee at Party City, this is one of multiple lessons in responsibility Sam has had to learn. His success in his job and school can be chalked up to his aptitude for adapting to a more restrictive schedule.
Sam thrives under his self-imposed limitations; barriers to work allow him to budget his time wisely in terms of his job, school-work, and sleep. The wisdom to manage his time has directly factored into his low stress levels, increased sleep, and consistent satisfactory grades; he has little but positive remarks about his experience working.
Sam wound up at Party City simply because it was the first business to get back to him, but it’s an experience that has improved his people skills and allowed him variety in the tasks he completes.
“Some days you might be working at the balloon counter filling balloons,” Sam said, “or you could be at the cash register, or even some days you’ll just be out within the store walking around helping customers.”
This idyllic path that Sam has stumbled upon has been free of most obstacles, but he acknowledges the inevitable complications that a vast percentage of students with part-time jobs encounter.
“I’m not entirely sure because I haven’t worked a [nine-to-five] job,” Sam said, “but I feel like it’s a bit harder to go to school all day and then not have your nights. Even if you’re working a [nine-to-five job], then you still have your weekends, [and] you still have your nights, but if you’re working a part time job, then you don’t really get that flexibility.”
In her time working at PJ’s Pizza, Molly has occasionally encountered problems in this arena. Being one of the few employed students throughout her freshman and sophomore years has, at times, set her apart from her classmates.
Molly’s unique work schedule has limited her ability to participate in certain activities. While she doesn’t feel in any way isolated, she has had to learn to work past periodic feelings missing out.
“The thing for me that’s probably been my least favorite thing about working,” Molly said, “is [that] I usually work Fridays, and that means no football games [and] no hanging out with my friends on Fridays, which can suck. Especially when you feel like you’re missing out. I think I’ve become less afraid of missing out now, but at first it was kind of difficult.”
Molly refuses to let any similar feelings hold her back from doing something she has come to love and treasure; forming bonds with her fellow employees and becoming familiar with the tasks she must complete has helped her find a home and a comfort in her job.
Working is a way that Molly can express herself adequately without feeling like her time is in anyway wasted. No complications will convince her that having a job is an opportunity to be passed up.
As high school students, these feelings and values are integral and crucial parts of who we are. They trump the stress and complications simply by making students feel heard and important.
“I think that every high school student should at some point just try a job to see if it’s beneficial for you,” Molly said. “I think it’s helped me overall see myself as an individual. At a workplace, you don’t have your friends around you, [and] you don’t have your parents around you — you don’t really know anyone going into it. It really helped me become more confident.”