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Balancing Act : High School Students Making the Grade at Part-Time Jobs

February 06, 1992| Maureen Brown | Maureen Brown is a writer and mother of four.

First jobs have a way of permanently etching themselves in our memories. Often, more than a paycheck was gained from that initial working experience.

Many of today's teens, like teens a generation ago, cut their working teeth at fast-food restaurants. I always find it of interest to learn that a successful executive, attorney, physician or teacher was once a member of this business sector--and in a position well below management.

A teen-ager's first job is one of many rites of passage children and parents must go through. A dialogue of limits is appropriate when the subject of taking a job arises.

It's important to determine what are acceptable hours of employment and how many hours a week are permitted so that the student can maintain studies and other school-related activities. What about transportation? Job safety? How will the earnings be spent?

For some families, the discussion of employment is frequently not initiated by the child but rather by the parent. "I think it's time we discuss the possibility of a job," has been uttered in numerous households after a weekend of distributing funds to teen-agers for entertainment and clothing.

While not feigning to have the answers to the question of employment and teen-agers, a recent discussion with a group of Mira Mesa teen-agers proved that more than money is gained from a job.

Charlotte Iradjpanah, 17, a senior at Mira Mesa High, has been working 10 to 20 hours a week at a Mira Mesa Burger King since September.

"The job is close to my house and I needed the money for senior activities," says Charlotte. "I'm also saving for college and working keeps me out of trouble. A job is an opportunity to know what it's like to hold responsibility. Sometimes I have to face the fact that I have to go to work today and put aside my personal preferences."

Working at Burger King does not exclude Charlotte from participating in extracurricular activities at school. She is a member of the speech and debate team and president of the photography club.

"The job has actually strengthened my GPA since I've taken on additional responsibilities," said Charlotte.

Jenni Hada, 18, a senior at Mira Mesa Summit High has been at Burger King for 3 months. "I owe my parents some money and want to buy a car, but working actually gives me something constructive to do with my free time," she says.

Mike Vo, 17, a junior at Mira Mesa High, who has been at Burger King for the past month, has held a part-time job since he turned 16. "I didn't like living off of my parents," he says.

Mike's parents were skeptical when their son first brought up the subject of having a part-time job in addition to school. "Once they saw that I could still bring home good grades and have a job, they felt differently," says Mike.

As well as school and a part-time job, Mike is a participant in the junior tennis circuit.

Charlotte, Jenni and Mike work with a manager who perceives the commitment and organization it demands to have a part-time job while in high school. Manager Wade Palmer, 28, started work at Burger King at age 17 while in high school and senses the importance of allowing for flexibility in scheduling.

"We can work around your schedule," Palmer assures the students.

Palmer views "listening to these teen-agers" as an important facet of his role as a manager. Believing that "there are many valuable qualities one can develop on the job," Palmer delights in seeing former student-workers from his decade of work in North County who have gone on into other fields.

"One is a banker in Mira Mesa, another is a para-legal, and another is an assistant manager with Dixieline," proudly claims Palmer.

Before In-N-Out Burger in Mira Mesa opened its doors in August last year, the company sent out employment flyers and solicited workers in the local high schools and colleges.

"We had over 800 applications for employment," says Bill Mayes, 31, the manager of the store on Mira Mesa Boulevard. "Of those 800 applicants, we selected 50."

Like Wade Palmer, Mayes started working with In-N-Out Burger at age 17 while still in high school. He continued part-time in college, and eventually went into management.

"I think students, with their great amount of energy, work out very well in our restaurant," Mayes says. "At In-N-Out, we're looking for bright, friendly, outgoing people to meet our customers."

Ba Hog, 17, a Mira Mesa High student, is one of the 50 applicants who met Mayes' criteria.

"At first, my parents doubted I could get a job here--lots of people were applying," recalls Ba. "After I passed the first interview, they cautioned me to not get my hopes up. When I passed the second interview, I could not wait to go home and tell them!"

"Since I've had this job, my parents have been giving me a little more freedom--like staying out later," says Ba, who is trilingual--speaking Chinese, Vietnamese and English. "Now they feel I can better decide between what is right and wrong. Plus, my grades have not been affected since I started this job."

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