Finding the school and work balance

Hieu Pham works at the Dining Commons at UMass.Photo: Jonah Weinbaum

Being in high school is a demanding job. Students are in school for seven hours, five days a week, and often face hours of homework when they get home.

Factor in daily sports practices and other student activities, and it’s almost inconceivable that ARHS students can do anything that isn’t school related. But a large percentage of students at ARHS have jobs, adding yet another activity to their packed schedule.

If you’ve ever been to the office supply store and local landmark A.J. Hastings, you’ve probably encountered an ARHS student hard at work restocking shelves or ringing customers up.

Senior Delia McHale, part of the current team of ARHS seniors at Hastings, has been working at the store for just under a year.

She currently works seven to ten hours per week, usually behind the cash register. “I fold a lot of clothes, too,” she said.

McHale doesn’t mind working. “It’s not bad,” she said. “It’s pleasantly boring.” McHale works mainly so she can buy food and coffee in town, but is also saving money to use during college. Over the summer, she used her earnings to go on a trip to France.

However, McHale runs on the cross-country team and said it’s hard to fit sports and work into her schedule.

“When I work at Hastings during the school week, I get home at eight o’clock,” she said. “If I have work due the next day, I stay up late and finish it. If there’s nothing due, I go to sleep at a normal time.”

Senior Hieu Pham spent last winter and summer as a cook at the Hampshire Dining Common at UMass. “I was mostly an omelet chef, but I did whatever the head chef wanted me to do,” he said.

Pham said he’s saving up to buy a car, but is also saving money to help pay for college.

Pham, a member of the varsity Ultimate team, said he doesn’t work during the Frisbee season. “If I played Ultimate and worked, I wouldn’t be able to do anything else,” said Pham. He added, “I wouldn’t even be able to work on weekends, because we have a lot of tournaments.”

Sarah Talbot, Instructional Assistant in the Academic Achievement Center, knows students’ lives as well as anyone, as she works with close to 120 students each semester.

“I would estimate that more than half of my students have jobs,” she said. “Lots of them struggle to find the balance between homework and jobs.”

Ms. Talbot said that many of her students work to buy a car or simply to have spending money, but for others, work plays an essential role in their life.

“I have some students who need to work for basic needs, to put food in their mouth,” she said.

For these students, said Ms. Talbot, work is the number one priority and often leaves little time to do homework.

In order to help students succeed in school while still being able to make money, Ms. Talbot recommends reducing the amount of homework assigned to students.

“Research shows that homework wears students out and causes them to resent school,” she said. “Ideally, the school wouldn’t assign any homework at all.”

For now, students continue the age-old tradition of working minimum-wage jobs while figuring out how to do homework and still get sleep.

ARHS students are a lot of things, but lazy certainly isn’t one of them.