The Alhambra Source Youth Feed is investigating how the recession is affecting what local young people do with their free time. Yvonne Lee spoke with Paulina Ale, a senior at Alhambra High who has been working at a diner for the past three years. What started as a fun pastime for a little bit of extra cash is now something she does regularly to help her family.
How’d you get started working at a diner in Glendora?
Before the recession started, I was just working because I wanted a lot of things, and I didn’t want to ask my parents for money anymore. Once the recession hit, it wasn’t about the fun anymore. It was more that I needed the job — I couldn’t afford to lose the job. I only used to work weeknights but I felt like I needed more days in order to support my family and the activities I do at school, so I added weekend shifts. The recession impacted this fun little thing I did and made it into a necessity.
What’s your schedule like?
On Tuesdays and sometimes Thursdays I get off of school around 1:45 and get home by 2:30. From there, I would start a little bit of homework, as much as I could. And then I go off to work at 4:30 to get there right on time at 5. I usually come back at 10 at night, finish the rest of my homework and take a shower and go to sleep, usually 11:30 or midnight.
How do you balance having a job and going to school, and still do extracurricular activities?
It’s really difficult. My freshman and sophomore year I was all over the place: cheerleading and soccer games would land on the same day and then I needed to go to work. It was a pretty big struggle. I used to try to juggle everything and not work on the days that I was going to be busy, but it got really difficult. My junior and senior year, I just focused on my job and Speech & Debate club, because it doesn’t take as much time as cheerleading and soccer. Tournaments are usually on the weekend and it’s easier to get days off on the weekends than the weekdays.
Does this hectic lifestyle take a toll on your grades?
It kind of does take a toll on my schoolwork and I only really have two hours between school and work. I have to stay up really late or wake up really really early to do homework but it hasn’t affected me to the point where it has hurt my grades because I wouldn’t let that happen. However, the time I do have left, I use it very wisely.
What tips do you have for teens who want to balance a job and go to school?
I would most definitely say, don’t let the job take over your schoolwork. School’s very important, and I’ve learned that if you don’t keep good grades, you’re going to end up stuck at that lame job. I think it’s more about what you can handle. If you’re having difficulties in school, don’t try to take that leap into a job. If you are stable and steady and take the step forward, I say start off with the weekends and if you can push it to the weekdays do it. But I think it’s most definitely a weekend thing.
Interview has been edited and condensed.