First Jobs help High School Students Learn About The Working Life, and More

Tuesday, June 13, 2017, 11:01 am
Ann Kammerer

Above: Berkley Sorrells, a student at East Lansing High School, gets ready for her part-time retail job at Mad Eagle in East Lansing's downtown district. Sorrells also works at the boutique's sister store Clever Clover.

Berkley Sorrells loves French, the viola and Shostakovich. She also loves summer and the chances it brings for the financial independence of working more hours at her part-time job.

Shortly after turning 16, the now 17-year-old Sorrells sought out a job from two independently owned boutiques in the downtown business district. She alternates between Mad Eagle and Clever Clover and works as a sales clerk. It's a job she adores, and one that provides the right work-life balance for her busy schedule as a soon-to-be high school senior at East Lansing High School.

"This job has let me dip my toe into the water and think about what I see myself doing in ten to twenty years," she says. "More than anything, it's helped me with my people skills and connecting with the community. It's pretty great that way, to be able to work in East Lansing and be part of the community both in and outside of school."

Finding freedom

Like a lot of students, Sorrells values independence and imagines life beyond her high school's halls. First-time or summer jobs are a proving ground for teens to demonstrate reliability and develop time management skills, and for achieving short- and long-term financial goals.

"It's great to say, 'Hey. I can go out and buy that dress I saw in the window because I'm working and it's my money,'" says Sorrells. "And it's also great to save up and say, 'Hey. I have enough to go on a trip using my money.'"

Sorrells hopes to work more hours this summer beyond her usual ten per week—and she plans to manage and save part of what she earns. The experience of working more, she says, will also give her a baseline for what she can handle in college.

East Lansing alumnus Joe Maguire understands that paradigm. While he attended high school in what some kids today might view as a bygone era, the same life lessons applied.

"I think I realized the benefits later when I got to college," says Maguire who was a member of the Trojan class of 1979. "Forcing myself to have a full schedule and learning how to balance that was a real benefit. I was in the marching band and took a full load at Northwestern. I was very prepared in terms of time management. "

Today, Maguire is responsible for the operation and direction of the East Lansing's Wolverine Development. And while his first jobs of washing dishes and vacuuming carpets were vastly different than that of a CEO, those experiences, he says, carried a similar sense of responsibility and camaraderie.

"I was one of those kids that studied a lot in high school," Maguire admits. "Working was a way to get out and do something else. It was just cool to have a job."

Maguire remembers riding his bike after school or from his family home in the Whitehills neighborhood to the legendary Cork and Cleaver—now Reno's East—near Saginaw and Abbot. Once there, he washed dishes, made friends, and collected occasional tips as a member of the kitchen crew.

"I found most people were real nice to the dishwasher," he says. "You're not getting yelled at for an order being late."

That job, and his membership on the high school tennis team, led to his second job at the now defunct Racquet Club—a fitness facility on Lake Lansing Road across from the current Mid-Michigan Physicians.

Back then, Maguire says, courts were lined with a variety of green carpet that needed vacuuming and spot cleaning each morning and night. His job was to wrestle a huge industrial vacuum before the sun came up and after the sun came down in exchange for minimum wage and access to an empty court for tennis practice when his job was done.

"Early or late, it was free tennis," he says. "It was just neat to be a part of that."

Building passion

Being immersed in a summer job related to an aspiration or pastime is also part of the charm at another East Lansing landmark.

Above: The staff of the East Lansing Aquatic Center gathers for a team shot before diving into the summer season.

From the weekend after Memorial Day through just past Labor Day, the East Lansing Family Aquatic Center employs 65 people to ensure safety, customer service and fun. Forty of the staff are East Lansing High School students or alumni. Several members of the leadership team are also high school alumni, and have been with the Aquatic Center for up to ten years.

Recreation Coordinator Jim Jennings says prospective staff members don't have to be competitive swimmers to apply for or work the twelve-week post. While most of the 30 lifeguards are competitive or strong swimmers, others who work as slide operators, concession staff or in customer service simply need to be comfortable in and around water. Some staff, too, are seasoned "veterans" from earlier seasons working work their way through high school and college.

"Working outside and working in a place where everybody is the same age as you is a huge advantage and makes this a lot of fun," says Jennings. "One of the things that surprises me the most, though, is when I run into former staff and they say how well they were trained, and how much it has helped them with their current job or schooling."

Jennings begins interviews for summer aquatics jobs in February, with training in the spring. He typically looks for people who are available seven days a week and can work 30 to 35 hours a week on a flexible schedule. Many new staff continue to work at the center for consecutive summers, while others pursue opportunities to work year-round as lifeguards or swim instructors at the Hannah Center pool.

Dee Careathers is among them, and in the midst of her twelfth season with the Aquatic Center.

Careathers graduated from East Lansing High School in 2007, and competed on the softball and cheer teams. She began working for the Aquatic Center the summer of 2006 as a slide operator, and was instantly motivated to become a lifeguard. She enrolled for the rigorous training and became certified, then worked as a lifeguard year-round for three years at both the Hannah and Aquatic Center pools. Within time, she became head lifeguard and is now among a team of aquatics managers.

"I never knew I would be here so long," says Careathers. "But I really love the staff and how much of a family we are. I've always loved being around pools and swimming and just being outside."

Careathers built on that passion through her studies at MSU. She recently finished her junior year in the Sustainable Parks, Recreation and Tourism program.

"I never knew what it was like to be so much of a part of a community," says Careathers. "I grew up here, and started to see the whole other side by working for the city. It's made me feel part of the East Lansing family, and has given me the tools I need to become a great employee. It's just a wonderful thing being all together and creating a better community."




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