The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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Why I’m Proud to Have a Job
Colleges value work experience
Christopher Robles

My family is from a small town in Mexico called San Francisco Coapa, where many people are poor. Starting at age 10, children are expected to work; often they wake up early before school to help make stone blocks and load them onto trucks to be sold. Some of the kids, like my mom, only finish elementary school so they can get jobs and help support their families. My dad left high school halfway through.

In my culture, letting young kids work shows that they are responsible, hardworking, and loyal to their family.

When I started high school, some of my relatives accused me of being lazy because I didn’t have a job. I decided working was a good idea. I could save up for college because my mom can’t help me with all the money needed for tuition, textbooks, a laptop, and other basic school materials. I also wanted to help my mom with the rent, buy a phone and pay the bill myself, and buy clothes and games.

So last summer, I got a job at McDonald’s. My initial responsibilities were to clean the restrooms, tables, and trays. My first day was stressful and scary because I didn’t know what the other employees would think about me. After a few days, I overcame my fears and made friends there.

Growing on the Job

There are many good things about having a job. The money is good, but working has also helped me be more confident. I used to be shy, but now I’m comfortable projecting my voice when I call out people’s orders. I speak a lot louder when I do school presentations so the whole room can hear me. I used to be afraid to talk to teachers and other adults. But because my job requires that I speak to adult customers and coworkers, I have gotten over this discomfort.

Working at McDonald’s has taught me how to manage money and not to waste it on things I don’t need. I also learned time management. I used to be disorganized and procrastinate a lot. Now I use my iPhone calendar to schedule the days I work, tests, trips, and doctor’s appointments.

Valuing My Education

I assumed these new strengths and skills would be viewed positively. But I’ve overheard conversations between customers that indicate otherwise. For example, once my coworkers and I were all busy behind the counter and bumping into each other. I could tell people on line were getting annoyed that things were taking so long.

I took the order for two white teens. As I was opening the cash register to give them their change, the guy said, “Why is he working here?”

image by YC-Art Dept

“Not sure, I think he’s a dropout,” the girl said.

Maybe they thought I couldn’t hear them because I was too busy counting their change, or that I didn’t know English.

This made me lose my concentration, and I had to start over to count the money.

When I was done, I wanted to throw the money at them and curse at them. Another side of me wanted to cry. As they moved aside to wait for their order, I saw them look over their receipt and count the money.

If I could relive that moment, I’d tell them: “I go to school, and I’m proud that I’m working and making my own money.” Some people might think I’m not prioritizing school, but education is even more important to kids like me who have immigrant parents. That’s why my mom came to this country in the first place: to get a better education for her children.

Colleges Want Kids Who’ve Worked

So I was disheartened to read an article in The Washington Post called, “A lazy summer for teenagers: Why aren’t more of them working?” The story quotes an author saying: “Upper-middle class families and above have made the determination that college admissions officers devalue paid work and that if you’re not pursuing a hectic schedule of activities, you’ll be less appealing to colleges.”

I reached out to Craig Broccoli, an assistant director for admissions at Binghamton University, to see if that was true. Although he can’t speak for all college admissions officers, he actually said most think the opposite: “It’s a big plus for a teen to hold a job while they are in high school. If upper-middle class families hold that view, it is likely based on opinions of their friends or others in their circle, and not facts.”

Broccoli emphasized that when colleges see a young person is able to successfully juggle work and school, it shows she has strong time management skills, an important factor in being successful in college. “Having a job teaches you a lot you can’t learn otherwise. And once you are enrolled, previous work experience gives these incoming students an upper hand if they are applying for jobs on campus,” says Broccoli.

Balancing my schoolwork with my job isn’t easy. I’m glad to know colleges recognize that and will value my experience. I’m proud to be a high school student with a job, and if people look down on that, I’m not afraid to stand up for myself and other working teens.

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