Units and shifts: SRJC students and alumnus successfully balance work and school schedules

SRJC alumnus Faith Gates works the fryer at In-N-Out Burger. Gates balanced a near full time schedule at In-N-Out with 20 units.

Nikki Goetz, Social Media Editor

Santa Rosa Junior College student Lena Ballard wakes up between 4 and 6 a.m. She starts her day with yoga or art before heading to her 7:30 a.m. class. She leaves the campus at noon and heads straight to work. After work she does homework before going to bed, and repeats everything the next day.

Ballard is one of many SRJC students who balance school and work on a daily basis. Sonoma County has one of the fastest rent increases in the country, leaving students to work more hours to make rent.

SRJC alumnus Faith Gates knows the struggle of managing a work and school schedule since she started her first semester at SRJC at age 15. Last semester she worked 39 hours a week at In-N-Out Burger. She worked the closing shift and normally clocked out around 2:30 a.m., all while taking 20 units and being Co-Editor-in-Chief at the Oak Leaf student newspaper. She said it was hard to manage work and school and had to make sacrifices to do both.

“Sleep would be the first thing that would go and then the next thing would be hanging out with friends,” Gates said. “It’s pretty much your life when you work and go to school. You really can’t have much else.”

Loss of sleep was hard on Gates. She would get up at 7 a.m. after getting little sleep from her closing shift. She’d try to leave the house by 8 to get to her class at 9.

Making time for homework was also a challenge. She would complete it during her classes because the other option was after work at 3 a.m.

When at school, she’d be thinking about when she had to go to work and at work, she was thinking about all she had to do for school. It was hard for her to get a day off both school and work unless she requested it. Whenever she did, she’d try to make time for friends.

Her parents motivated her to work, teaching her to earn her own money and pay her own expenses. She bought her own car, pays for her own insurance and studied abroad with her own money.

“I’m saving money. I have savings for the future and that’s important. That’s why I wanted to [work and attend school],” Gates said. 

Ballard is a psychology and pre-med major taking 18 units this semester. She works as a sales associate at Old Navy. She’s busy every day and always on her feet. When she’s off work, she does three hours of homework.

Some students would be exhausted with a busy schedule like hers, but Ballard makes sure she is well rested by keeping a tight schedule. She plans each day ahead of time by drafting a calendar on paper and updating it daily. She puts dates on two calendars, one for work and one for school and also keeps dates on her phone.

“I just want to keep busy and do everything I can to work towards my future,” Ballard said. “My career as a doctor, specifically an anesthesiologist, is going to allow me to help so many people; that’s my purpose in life.”

Even with her busy schedule, Ballard manages to make time for herself. Whenever she has a day off from both school and work, she plans trips to the ocean, river or forest. She’ll go for a hike with her yoga mat strapped to her back and after she finds a spot in nature to relax, she’ll do yoga and meditate. She’ll also take time to paint or write music.

Maintaining a social life is important for Ballard. “I try to spend as much time with friends as possible,” she said.

Student Adrian Inda has worked since he was 13, first landscaping with his father over summer, then working at a deli when he was 16. Now he works full-time as an assistant manager in the deli/bakery at Ray’s Food Place in Cloverdale. Inda gets up around 4 a.m. for work and arrives to the deli by 6 for an eight-hour shift. With this job he works all positions; he makes sure employees stay busy helping customers, bakes at least 40 bags of bread, fries food and attends to customers when other employees are busy.

 The only days Inda doesn’t work are Mondays and Wednesdays. During those days he wakes up at 6 a.m. and heads straight to SRJC, where he majors in psychology. Those two days are the only days he has time to do his homework. School and homework come first for him and work is not always easy.

There have been days when work affects his schooling, like getting called into work on a school day. He said it frustrates him because he’ll try to make plans on his off days and work almost always calls him in. It’s rare for him to get a day off from both work and school and it has left him feeling drained.

“I get very tired of waking up so early every day and working eight hours straight doing the same thing every day. It does get exhausting most of the time,” Inda said.

Yet he keeps at it. He’s motivated to earn his own money and hopes to get a better job after getting his degree. He plans to keep his job and transfer to Sonoma State to finish his psychology degree.

Student Rebecca Kirk works part-time at the Oliver’s Market bakery department. She works around 24 hours a week while taking 14 units at SRJC and splits her time between taking morning classes and working in the afternoon. She sleeps a few hours a night and said work has affected her schooling and made her feel exhausted.

“It’s like a learning experience, I learned through time that I need to give myself more time for school,” Kirk said. “My first year [at SRJC] I didn’t know how to manage it because I took a lot of classes. Now that I’ve been here for a while and working since I was 16, I know how to manage it better.”

On Kirk’s days off, she uses her time to finish homework and catch up on sleep. Being financially independent and moving out of her parent’s house motivates Kirk to manage both work and school and to eventually have a stable career. She hopes her hard work pays off when she transfers to California State University in Sacramento.

To those attempting to juggle work and school, she says it’s best to find a job that’s flexible with a school schedule and always make school the first priority. Also, try to get enough days off for homework.

Struggling to work and attend school can be difficult, but these students and others at SRJC make it work to achieve their goals and have fulfilling and successful futures.