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Long Island teens offer advice on balancing jobs and school

Sarah Biernacki, 15, of Huntington, works as an

Sarah Biernacki, 15, of Huntington, works as an usher at AMC Loews Shore 8 in Huntington. Credit: Marisol Diaz-Gordon

It may seem impossible to teens to work a part-time job and fit in all the academic and extracurricular demands of high school, but it can be done. Here are six tips from Long Island kids who are successfully balancing paid work and school.

1. Consider working only weekends

“I tell them I can only work weekends unless I have a holiday off,” says Sarah Biernacki, 15, a Huntington High School sophomore who works between five and 12 hours a week at the AMC Loews Shore 8 in downtown Huntington as an usher or ticket collector. That allows Biernacki to attend after-school drama club rehearsals — she’s playing the secretary in the school’s upcoming performance of the 1950s Broadway comedy “The Desk Set.”

Dillon Aponte, 17, a Wyandanch High School senior, does the same, working from late morning to evening on Saturdays and Sundays at Little Joe's Pizzeria in Wheatley Heights, prepping food and sometimes preparing heros, penne a la vodka or baked clams for customers. "I like to focus on school during the week," he says.

2. Avoid working two consecutive weekday afternoons

Stephen Smith, 16, a Wantagh High School junior, employs the opposite strategy as a swim instructor at Saf-T-Swim in Bellmore. He works only on weekday afternoons, but not on consecutive days. “I work Mondays and Thursdays from 4 to 8,” he says. That leaves Tuesdays to tackle homework for his demanding algebra class, and Wednesday evenings to attend his extracurricular Wantagh Fire Department Explorers Program. “If I have weekend homework, I have plenty of time to do that,” he says. He also fits in playing in the marching band percussion section.

3. Use every minute wisely

Smith gets home from school at 2:40 and doesn’t leave for work until 3:45 p.m. He dives into his homework immediately, and, when he gets home from work at 8:30 p.m., he’ll eat dinner and finish the assignment.

Johanna Lee, 17, a senior at Valley Stream South High School, baby-sits most Fridays and Saturdays until 11 p.m. or midnight. “Once I put the kids to bed, I can do homework,” she says. She’ll sit at the families’ dining room table and do calculus, for instance. That helps her fit violin and dance lessons and the kick line team into her weekly schedule.

4. Choose work you love

Michael Di Miceli, 15, a sophomore at Oceanside High School, has been working for a couple of years as a paid soccer referee with the Long Island Soccer Referee Association. He says he loves soccer but wasn’t very good at it, so his job lets him stay involved in the game and earn money at the same time. He referees competitions between teams of kids primarily 12 years old and younger. He typically works six to 10 games a weekend, spending hours on the field in his referee shirt.

Lee chooses to baby-sit because she loves kids, which makes heading to work fun. “You don’t dread going to it. You’re happy about putting your time in and getting your pay,” she says.

And Wyandanch's Aponte has found that his work at the pizzeria has actually influenced his future career path. "I found what I'm good at; it interests me. I want to become a chef," he says.

5. Hone your organizational skills

“Time management is crucial,” says Di Miceli. He’ll know his referee schedule two weeks or so in advance, and he’ll figure out when longer-term school assignments are due and avoid procrastinating. That allows him to fit in being assistant director for his school’s current play, “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” and socializing with friends.

Myla Hirsch, 17, a senior at Half Hollow Hills High School East in Dix Hills, works from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays, watching a 12- and 13-year-old in their home. She also runs her school’s a cappella group, plays clarinet and more. “I try to keep my agenda book very up to date,” she says.

6. Communicate your needs

Victoria Konieczny, 17, a senior at Valley Stream South High School, works Tuesday and Sunday evenings as a hostess at Marinara Pizzeria & Restaurant in Hewlett. She also plays girls’ varsity volleyball, and she communicates with her boss, co-workers and coach when she needs flexibility to accommodate both responsibilities. “If I know a few weeks ahead I have a game, we’ll switch shifts,” she says of co-workers. Sometimes she lets her coach know she has to leave a practice 15 minutes early to make it to work on time.

Hirsch says she communicated her needs upfront with her baby-sitting employers. When she accepted the job, she let them know that on alternate Fridays when she has after-school thespian honors society meetings, she would have to arrive a few minutes later, and they were OK with that, she says.

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