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The Essential High School Workers

Teenagers leave the safety of their homes to aid the community 

Adria Cooper, Staff Reporter

Originally Published May 11, 2020

On March 23, Washington State Governor Jay Inslee announced the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order. This banned all social gatherings, closed all non-essential business, and ordered Washington residents to stay home unless they had an essential activity. As of now, the order is set to stay in place until May 4.

Despite this order, essential workers still put themselves at risk by leaving their homes to perform their jobs. Some of these workers happen to be high schoolers who now have to juggle online schooling as well as working at their essential job.

Among these highschool workers are some of our own; Maddy Bowles, Beck Santanella, and Reese Pedersen (although she is not working currently, she did for the first month or so of quarantine. All juniors, these workers leave their homes to help support the community in these difficult times.

Q. Where do you work?

A. Bowles: I work at Chick Fil A on Aurora.

Santanella: I work at the QFC in Crown Hill.

Pedersen:  I work at Stoneway hardware.

Q. What precautions is your workplace taking to combat COVID-19?

A. Bowles: We have switched to only drive thru and mobile ordering, which is very different than our normal open dining room. We also have mandatory health screenings before we clock in, we must wear our provided masks at all times, and change our gloves every 30 minutes.

Santanella: My workplace put glass on all the registers to protect the cashiers. Everyone is required to wear masks and gloves. There are people who are constantly wiping down carts and baskets and everynight we wipe down every handle in the store.

Pedersen: The precautions my workplace is taking is that we have spots in line marked six feet apart. We have hand sanitizer for employees and I use it about every six people because I am touching cards and cash. I also wash my hands every hour and wipe things down every hour. Not everyone wears a mask though.

Q. Have your duties at work changed in any way?

A.Bowles: I normally work in the dining room and at the register, so switching to drive through has been a big change for me. I now fill roles I never would have before, and it was basically another round of training because I hadn’t worked drive through ever.

Santanella: Yes because now we have to have people disinfecting the carts, so there are less people to bag groceries.

Pedersen: No.

Q. How does your family feel about you leaving the house to work?

A. Bowles: I have my job to help provide for my family so it’s kind of a win lose. Obviously my dad would prefer I stay home, but he also works in healthcare, so he knows what it means to be essential at this time. 

Santanella: My family doesn’t really care as long as I make sure to wash my hands and clothes before I touch anything in the house.

Pedersen: Because not everyone is wearing a mask and my work was not doing as well as I liked in protecting employees, my family had me take a break. My family is also at a higher risk for getting sick so that also led me to take a break. 

Q. Have you picked up more hours?

A. Bowles: My hours have changed dramatically! During the school year, minor labor laws prevent me from working more than 5 hours at a time and we’re not allowed to work before 4pm. The rules have changed now so minors can work opening to closing any day of the week. 

Santanella: I started working after the quarantine started so no.

Pedersen:  I was working a few weeks at the peak of cases and it was very busy and good for business. Because of this, I was picking up more hours. But then I had to stop working.

Q. How are you balancing school and work?

A. Bowles: It’s a really basic answer but balancing school and work is really hard, especially during this time. I have a hard time being motivated to begin with, so the added stress of more hours and learning on my own hasn’t been great.

Santanella: Badly. School work is definitely harder to balance with a job, but it’s still manageable as long as you have motivation.

Q. How do you feel about breaking lockdown to work?

A. Bowles: I don’t like breaking lockdown to go to work at all, but I know that my work and family needs it so I do what I have to. 

Santanella: I think there are lots of kids breaking quarantine to hang out with friends, so I think you might as well make some money while doing that.

Pedersen: I didn’t like it. Also, I didn’t need the job as much so I hope that my break allows someone who needs a job to get one there.

Q. Have you noticed a change in the public you interact with?

A. Bowles:  I’ve noticed about half of our guests are pretty respectful and thank us for our work. The other half has been increasingly hostile and on edge, which can be understandable, but sometimes hard to deal with. 

Santanella: Yes, when I first started working everyone looked really uncomfortable and were just rushing to get in and out as fast as possible. Now, I feel like people have gotten used to it, but most people wear masks.

Pedersen: There are a lot more people coming into the store to work on projects now that they have time. We had facemasks for sale too, so it was interesting to see the demand for them change.

Q. What changes has COVID-19 brought for you?

A. Bowles: The biggest change this has brought for me is being more grateful for what I have. I have the opportunity to come into work everyday and bring back a paycheck, which not many people have right now. I’ve also grown a lot closer with my coworkers, as we all have been supporting each other and helping one another during all of this.

Santanella: I’m not able to see my friends or girlfriend. I’ve been inside way more than I usually am and I’ve also been taking more walks.

Pedersen: It has changed many things, at first I was working more and now not at all.

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The Essential High School Workers