WESTMINSTER - Nearly three years ago, Adam Schointuch traded his lacrosse gear for a referee suit and a chance to earn money to buy a car.
"My dad told me if I wanted to drive, I needed to get a job," says Schointuch, a Westminster High senior who works part time at the Foot Locker in Cranberry Mall.
Schointuch is among the countless students who work part time during their high school years to save money for college or pay for cars and insurance, clothes and various activities.
"Work has taught me responsibility," he says. "I've learned to budget my time and to make my payments or not drive the car."
Despite his work schedule, the 17-year-old says he has been able to maintain B's and C's in his classes. He plans to attend either a state university or a community college next fall.
But working part time through, as the old saying goes "the best years of you life," is a double-edged sword, educators say.
"It can be good and it can be bad," says Walter Dyky, assistant principal at Westminster High school. "It teaches kids the values of working for goals. On the down side, kids can go overboard and focus too much on working."
And that is always a concern of educators.
"Generally, the concern of counselors is that students will put their job and the time it takes as a priority in their life," says Janice Hobart, chair of the guidance department at Westminster High School. "Their job is to be in school and that needs to be a priority."
When students place too much emphasis on work, grades often drop, attendance declines and extracurricular activities fall by the wayside.
"There have been numerous occasions when I've observed kids that have not been able to take part in activities or have hurt themselves academically because they've overextended themselves," says A. George Phillips, principal at Francis Scott Key High School.
"I think it's a shame when a kid's opportunities are limited by the amount of work that he's doing," he adds.
Like other educators, though, Phillips says he believes a certain amount of work is good for students.
"I think it teaches them some real life lessons about the working world," he says. "They learn how to manage their time and money. They interact with all different types of people."
That's been the experience of Jeff Glover, a senior at South Carroll High School who also works part time at the Foot Locker.
"Working is the real world. I don't think I'm missing anything after school," says Glover, whose checks help pay for insurance so he can drive his parents' car.
The 17-year-old says working also allows him to help support himself. Glover, who plans to attend college, is saving to buy his own car, too.
Glover and Schointuch are among the four high school students who work part time at Foot Locker.
Store manager Kevin Basconia says his high school workers have been dependable and goal-oriented. He says he is flexible with their work schedules so they can attend school events.
Some of the students, such as Schointuch, have proven very successful in the sales field.
"Adam is one of the best employees I've ever had," Basconia says. "He's a hard worker and is very courteous. He's one of our top salesmen."
Although educators do not keep tabs on the number of working students, they say more and more students are flipping hamburgers, stocking shelves and selling clothes and other goods.
"The trend seems to be that more and more of our students are working," observes Stephen Guthrie, chair of the guidance department at North Carroll High School.
Their numbers have increased so much that the school has developed a job bulletinboard for students. Other options also are available. They include vocational programs and an early release program for students who maintain good grades and attendance records.
"We used to not to do anything," Guthrie says.
Although many students work to save money for college, Guthrie says that he finds that the vast majority work to make car payments and pay insurance.
"The myth of the car as the ultimate status symbol is very much real," he says.
Adds Hobart, "If there had to be one reason for students to put in too many hours, I would say it's because of car responsibilities. And for young men, car insurance is extremely high."
Despite concerns about students balancing work and academic schedules, educators say there are many who are able to do so.
"There are many who can handle the rigorous schedules of high school," Hobart says. "Some have excellent jobs that prepare them for the world of work. They're receiving excellent training and developing a good work ethic."
And, as Phillips notes, there are some students who work because of economic necessities.
"It's important for kids to work for the right reasons," Phillips says. "Helping support a family is one of them."
Copyright The Baltimore Sun 1990