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DUBUQUE, Iowa (AP) — Freshman Ava Terwilleger and sophomore Logan O’Mara stand out from many of their classmates at Dubuque Hempstead High School.

They’re not all-state athletes or much different looking from their peers, but they are younger than 16 and employed.

Both teens — Terwilleger is 14 and O’Mara is 15 — work for General Manager Paul Schemmel at Fareway in Dubuque. Schemmel said he has about a dozen 14- and-15-year-old grocery baggers working for him at any given time.

“I think they do great,” he told the Telegraph Herald . “They have a learning curve on making some adjustments with the family, the work and balancing those out. But we’re able to work with those kids and once they’re in the store they already have a grasp of how things work when they turn 16.”

In Iowa, anyone younger than 16 must work under strict restrictions.

They cannot work during school hours and are limited to a total of three hours each school day — 18 hours total per school week — or eight hours each non-school day and up to 40 hours per non-school week.

There also are limits to the times of day a 14- or 15-year-old can work. They’re restricted to working from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. during the school year and 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. during the summer.

Schemmel said his young employees work about 10 hours per week.

“They’re limited in what they can do,” Schemmel said of his youngest employees. “We let them bag and carry groceries. Sometimes they can face-up, that means pull products to the front of the shelf, but we don’t even let them push a stock cart.”

Experts are at odds as to whether starting to work a “real job” at age 14 is a good or bad thing for teens.

Researchers at the National Commission on Youth praise part-time work and say it contributes to the transition from youth to adulthood. Other studies claim major negative consequences to students working more than 20 hours per week.

According to research by Jeylan T. Mortimer, a professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota, four basic answers emerge when determining the value of adolescent work experience.

The first is positive and claims employment helps teens to develop a wide range of beneficial attributes, such as the capacity to take responsibility, develop time-management skills, overcome shyness with adults and handle money. Employment also might make them feel more like an adult.

Mortimer says detractors claim teens who work long hours tend to have lower grades than teens who work fewer hours and miss more school.

“These critics also report that as hours of work increase, adolescents drink and smoke more, and engage in a wide range of problem behaviors,” Mortimer said.

The third answer claims it makes very little difference in the long run if teens start work at 14 or 18, while a final theory states a positive or negative outcome is completely dependent on the individual and his or her circumstances.

As far as the young Fareway workers are concerned, it’s been a positive experience for both.

“Oh, yeah. I love it here,” said O’Mara, who has worked at Fareway for 18 months. “I get to interact with customers. It teaches me how to talk with people.”

Terwilleger, a two-month Fareway vet, agreed.

“And it teaches work ethic and responsibility,” she said.

Schemmel said over the years he’s had dozens of employees continue to work at Fareway when they left Dubuque for college.

“The nice thing about Fareway is they’re everywhere,” he said. “Just in the last year, I’ve probably had seven kids go off to school and continue to work at Fareway.”

Both teens said that work has not had an effect on their grades or extracurricular activities — Terwilleger plays softball. The pair also said some of their friends are not yet as motivated as they are to work.

Schemmel said he always calls a potential worker’s parents to make sure they’re all right with their child having a job.

“The majority of the (applicants) I’ve seen are kids coming in on their own for the job,” he said. “They want to help with the family or bills or whatever. I tell them school always comes first.”

Neither Terwilleger or O’Mara have specific plans for after high school. They both toe the party line when asked what they’re going to do with their new-found riches — “Save for college.”


Information from: Telegraph Herald,