Too much work takes time away from school

David Gustafson helps a customer while working at Dairy Queen.
David Gustafson helps a customer while working at Dairy Queen. He works about 20 hours a week, an amount researchers say is related to high school students having a lower GPA. Photo courtesy of David Gustafson
I work about 20 hours a week, on average, and for me, I know working has made school more of a challenge.

On a recent work night, there weren’t enough people to close down the Dairy Queen store where I work, so I had to stay late and help out. But when you have two tests the next day and an hour of math homework on top of that, every minute counts.

On a recent work night, there weren’t enough people to close down the Dairy Queen store where I work, so I had to stay late and help out. I had to stay an extra 45 minutes. That may not seem like much, but when you have two tests the next day and an hour of math homework on top of that, every minute counts, especially when the tests are in Advanced Placement Statistics and pre-calculus.

After walking home from work, it was 10:30 p.m. I didn’t finish studying until about 1:00 a.m., which made getting up at 6:30 a.m. a challenge.

The first test – pre-calculus — I had my first hour, so while still waking up, I had to do some complex math work. My statistics test wasn’t until my last class. I knew I’d be more awake and likely do better on that one, plus the material was a bit simpler to understand.

I got an A on my statistics test but a C plus on my pre-calculus test. I made simple mistakes like flipping a positive and negative sign around, which I know I would have caught had I been more awake.

I am a senior at Eden Prairie High School and I come from a less than affluent family, so if I want to have any spending money, my parents expect me to work for it.

University of Minnesota sociologist Jeylan Mortimer studied the impact of working while going to high school on hundreds of St. Paul freshman and sophomores starting in 1987. She studied the students until they reached their mid-30s.

Mortimer found steady work of 10 to 15 hours a week actually helps improve students’ grade point averages and educational goals. But she also found teens who consistently work more than 20 hours a week often have the lowest GPAs and educational ambitions.

The 2010 Minnesota Student Survey trend report found the amount twelfth graders working 11 or more hours a week has been falling. “A decline for twelfth grade students occurred again in 2010, dropping to 33.2 percent from 45.4 percent in 2007,” according to the report.

I work about 20 hours a week, on average, and for me, I know working has made school more of a challenge. I have a harder time getting everything done, so I can speak to the truth of this research.

Most of the time, work is inflexible. Once you start a job, your boss is counting on you to be there when he or she needs you there. It doesn’t matter if I have a test the next day if there is no one else there who can close down the store. They generally ask very politely that you stay late, but the undertone suggests if you don’t, it will reflect poorly on you.

And if you work late, and then do homework, you don’t get as much sleep as normal. This scenario has happened to me on multiple occasions. It’s not difficult to pull one night like this and be okay. It makes for tough mornings the next day, true, but it’s when you’ve been doing it for a month or so that it really starts to wear on you.

For me, working 20 hours a week really puts a strain on my ability to function at my best during school. The recommended amount of sleep you need each night is about 7 hours, but if I work until 10:30 p.m., and then have two hours of homework, I’m not likely to see my bed until 1 a.m., which cuts my sleep down to 5 hours a night.

Long-term sleep deprivation leads to a decrease in school performance because when you are tired, your brain just doesn’t work as efficiently as it normally would.

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