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For some N.H. teens, a job means independence. For others, it means a new set of challenges.

Gabriela Lozada

Mohamed Bah, a high school student in Manchester, found himself with a lot of free time when the pandemic first hit. So he decided to get a job at a grocery store to make some extra money, save up for college and have some more independence.

Since then, he’s learned to balance his time as a student athlete and a part-time employee when school is in session. But that hasn’t always been easy.

“It became more difficult, because they used to call you a lot more often during the school weeks and stuff like that, asking if you could come in even though you've already stated you couldn't,” he said.

Now 18 years old, Bah said holding down a job can be a positive thing for teens — as long as their employers respect their time, their schoolwork, their mental health and their boundaries.

And he’s not alone trying to juggle the pressures of employment with the pressure of being a teenager. Other young Granite Staters said that comes with lots of challenges: dealing with calls from managers interrupting their classes, juggling assignments with increasing job responsibilities amid an ongoing labor shortage and more. Some also said they feel compelled to contribute to their family budget.

Heading into the upcoming school year, some local students could also be asked to take on more hours at work than before. Earlier this summer, Gov. Chris Sununu signed a law allowing 16- and 17-year-old students to work up to 35 hours while school is in session. The measure had support from the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association and other local businesses, some of whom said it could help businesses secure more employees and help students have more opportunities to earn money.

“I'd say put yourself in their shoes first. Start from there, because you never know what's going on." Habiba Hassan, a recent high school graduate, on her advice to business owners who employ local teenagers

A recent graduate of Manchester Central High School, Habiba Hassan said she has also struggled to get her employers to work around her class schedule in the past. The 19-year-old said she would encourage business owners to be more understanding of what their teenage employees are dealing with.

“I'd say put yourself in their shoes first. Start from there, because you never know what's going on,” she said. “They're in school, you're probably not. You're more of a business person. You’re just really caring about the business running and the money being made.”

Wesley Olmeda, a 16-year-old junior at Manchester Central High School, said he’s familiar with the challenge of balancing work and school commitments. His mother encouraged him to work starting at age 14, so that he could pay for more of his own things.

His first job was at a grocery store, but he doesn’t work there anymore. He, too, said he used to receive calls during the school day from his managers asking him to pick up an extra shift. Often, he said, it seemed like his bosses just weren’t listening when he and his peers said they weren’t available.

Still, Olmeda said work has its benefits: “Learning how to be with bigger people, bosses, how to act like a grown person, how to be around other people and mature, and stuff.”

Another local student, 16-year-old John Alade, doesn’t yet have a job but is eager to find one soon. A junior at the Manchester School of Technology, he said playing sports is usually a big part of his routine during the school year. But after watching his parents put in so many hours to provide for his family, he’s feeling the pressure to step up.

Getting a job means more than just gaining independence, he said, it also means he can save up and be the support system he’s had all his life. At the same time, Alade said he’s nervous about falling behind at school once he finds a job.

“[My parents] want me to get the best out of school and they want me to go to the best colleges, make the best life for myself,” Alade said. If he picks up too many hours at work, he continued, “It would just set me back a whole lot, like I wouldn't be encouraged to really go to school that much, you know?”

Alade said he has watched some of his peers miss assignments and struggle in class after picking up night shifts in order to make more money.

“It's not really an ideal life,” he said.

Once he finds a job, Alade said he plans to communicate with his managers to make sure he still has time for his academics. However, he thinks the real key will be having a support system both in and out of school — including friends who make sure he has his priorities straight and hold him accountable.

“I think a support system is one of the most important things in life,” Alade said.

Favor Aregbesola, a junior at Manchester West High School, said she started her first job this summer in part so that she could be in a better position to contribute financially to her household if needed. The 16-year-old said she works at most 20 hours a week, and her family insists she can save her paychecks for emergencies.

But her job has had other benefits, not just financial. Aregbesola said the concepts she learned about in business class are starting to make more sense.

“I was like, if I start working now, I will have more experience: Like, what is going on, how the system works,” Aregbesola said. “It is going to be able to help me in school.”

Copyright 2022 New Hampshire Public Radio. To see more, visit New Hampshire Public Radio.

Bol Nakdimo
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