In The Mix

Kayla gets a new job that helps her decide what to do after high school. She gives Andy a ride to tour a four-year.

Kayla quits her job at the movie theater and starts working the line at a local restaurant.

It felt so good to punch the clock at the theater for the last time. I dropped my red polo with the cheesy “Crown Cinema” logo embroidered across the front on Ben’s desk. I will not miss this job.

Kayla works to support herself.

You know, I have to work. Since I was twelve, maybe even younger, I’ve bought all my own clothes, and I pay for gas and whatever fun stuff I want to do. I don’t know. My parents just aren’t rich or even close. My mom, she gets so stressed out on the first of the month. That’s when she pays the bills, and when she’s done, there’s nothing left. So it’s not like I can ask for money or anything.

I used to get teased when I was little because I never had the right clothes. I was always kind of on the fringes of the right group, the popular kids, and I remember hearing them make fun of the “losers,” and thinking, hey, that’s me. I guess that’s when I started going to the Salvation Army Thrift Store. I mean, if I couldn’t buy the right clothes, I could buy my own clothes.

In fifth grade, there was this big field trip to D.C., and everyone was going. I didn’t even ask my parents, and I sure didn’t have the money myself. I just told everyone I didn’t want to go.

So I’ve got to work. You’d think I’d know what I want to do, but I never really thought about it. I just started babysitting and then worked at the grocery store for a while and then got this job at the movie theater. Maybe it was talking to Susan about cooking school, I don’t know, but I went into La Reine Astrid, this French restaurant downtown. I couldn’t even read the menu. But I went in anyway, around 4:00. It was all lit up and there was this big raised square in the middle, with barstools all around it, and then the stoves and ovens where they cook. I don’t know. I just liked it right away.

So I asked if there was anything I could do, you know, to start. The one woman behind the counter, she looked up, and said, “What do you want to do? Waitress or work the line?”

I knew what waitressing was, of course, but working the line? So I just said, “Yeah, I want to work the line.”

Becky hires Kayla as her assistant.

“You ever worked in a restaurant before?” she asked. She was piping icing onto these tiny chocolate cakes. Each one looked like a little present when she was done. It was pretty amazing. I mean, in our house we’ll make brownies and then dump icecream on them. Good. But not beautiful.

“No,” I shook my head, feeling stupid.

“It’s okay, you’ve got to start somewhere,” she said. And she smiled. “I’m Becky. I’m the pastry chef here, and I do need an assistant.”

And just like that, I had a new job. I never do stuff like that. I mean, I got the job at the grocery store because my mom works there, and I started at the movie theater with one of my friends. It felt really good to do this on my own.

I mean, the pay’s not so great, but I put in a lot of hours at the restaurant, and it’s fun. It gets crazy sometimes, and things don’t always go well. Once I dropped a whole tray of petits-fours, these real fancy little pastries, right before the Friday night rush. And I’ve done the classic confuse salt with sugar thing. But Becky’s great. She lets me try stuff all the time. She even taught me to make a soufflé. I didn’t even know what one was a few weeks ago! I guess it’s because she went to cooking school herself that she’s such a great teacher. She keeps telling me I need a degree or else I’ll never make a decent living cooking.

So I came in early today to talk to her about cooking school. I never thought I’d go to college. I always saw college as something that wasn’t practical, wasn’t real, especially for someone like me. But technical school seems different. I don’t know. Maybe I could go?

Click here to watch Becky and Kayla talk about cooking school. (dialup OR broadband)

I just about fell out of my chair when I heard how much it cost. “Thirty-two thousand dollars a year????”

Becky shrugged, “I know, it’s a lot of money. But practically everyone there gets financial aid. And the degree opens doors.”

I’ve been thinking about that. Money is just so awful, you know? I mean, I don’t have any rich relatives dying to pay for my schooling. If I go, it’s gonna be on me. Maybe I should look into community college. It’s just so much cheaper.

Kayla enjoys baking with Becky.

Becky gets that, I think, cuz she’s always giving me as many hours as I can handle. And she’s trying to start this catering company, so she hired me to help. We both do everything, from cooking to serving, and it’s pretty fun. Becky doesn’t own all the equipment she needs, so we’re always improvising. I like that, figuring out what to do when you don’t have everything you need.

I don’t know. I think I really want to go to cooking school.

Click here to watch Becky and Kayla bake old-fashioned gingerbread cookies and discuss what cooking school is like. (dialup  OR broadband)

Andy and Kayla tour James Madison University.

James Madison University.

“Kayla, you are such a loser,” Andy laughs at me and then puts his arm around me in a big bear hug. He’s teasing me for being so miserable here. I know what he means. I mean, we’re on a tour and I’ve listened to this guy drone on and on about how fabulous – he actually said fabulous – everything is here, and I just don’t get it.

It’s so big, and everybody’s all preppy. I feel like an alien. I mean, I understand the language, but somehow none of it makes any sense. Like these girls here. They run up to each other and scream and hug. It’s just so childish. And nobody’s actually doing anything. They’re all just hanging out. It’s hard to believe anyone can graduate from here and get a real job.

Andy is happy to find a college that fits his needs.

Still, anything to get out of school. Ms. Lopez, my guidance counselor, is always arranging these college visits and trying to get us all to go. And Andy needed a ride and I’ve got a car. It’s old, but it runs. Most of the time. So we drive up and Andy’s more excited than I’ve ever seen him. I mean, he’s all movement, and I’m just tired. And that makes me feel even more alone and less like all these people around here.

I don’t know. I guess if I thought going to school for four more years was what I wanted to do, maybe I’d see things differently. But I think I want to be more practical, more focused. The guide said there are hundreds of classes to choose from, like that’s a good thing. I mean, a person could study practically anything, but nothing real. At least, that’s how I see it.

If I go to cooking school, everything I do there would relate to becoming a real chef. I wouldn’t spend all my time studying random things. And when I was done, I’d knowsomething.

“Listen to this, Kayla,” Andy breaks into my thoughts. “I could do research starting my sophomore year! Can you imagine? I could get published!”

Andy feels right at home at a four-year college.

Andy’s super smart. He always gets good grades, real easy. Last year he won some award for this biology project he did about mold. Gross. So now he wants to be a biologist. Or maybe something in math? He changes his mind all the time.

“Ooooh, research. My dream!” I tease him back. “Now who’s the loser?”

He just laughs. “This place is perfect. I even think they’d take my AP credits! Isn’t that cool?”

The thing is, Andy has even less money than I do.

Julia, the biology major Andy meets after the tour.

After the tour, everybody just goes their own way, but Andy drags me over to the library and starts talking to the girl behind the counter. He thinks he’s so smooth sometimes! They hit it off right away, and she really does seem nice. I just can’t get interested the way Andy is, though. I guess they’ve got that biology connection. Maybe that’s why Andy can see himself here, where there are lots of other people into the same things he is. But I can’t. I just want to go home.

Click here to watch Julia, the JMU student working in the library, talk about her experiences at college. (dialup  OR broadband)

After Andy says good-bye and we’re heading to the car, he’s kinda quiet. I guess he’s thinking about everything, and I’m right, cuz he says, “You know, I’m behind on all this college stuff. I guess cuz nobody in my family’s ever gone. But I’m gonna do it, Kayla. I just have to put all the pieces together.”

And I’m happy for him, all of a sudden. I mean, he knows what he wants now. That’s half the battle. All he has to do now is get there.

Dr. Frank Friedman, President of Piedmont Virginia Community College, explains the advantages and benefits of attending a community college.

Click here to watch Dr. Frank Friedman discuss what community colleges offer. (dialup  OR broadband)

As you figure out what you want to do after you graduate, consider vocational and technical training programs, community college, and four-year colleges. Check out these Websites to see which program best fits your needs.

Ten Ways School Prepares You for the Work World

How to Choose the Type of College for You

Your College Degree Options: What Type of Degree Do You Want?

Hispanic Scholarship Fund: Selecting a College (Information about the advantages and disadvantages of different types of schools).

Different Types of Colleges

Community Colleges: Places So Near Can Take You So Far

Virginia-Specific resources