Staying After School: Midnight Classes Redefine Higher Education

A local community college is redefining what it means to stay after school.

Bunker Hill Community College (BHCC) is completing its second semester of the award-winning midnight classes curriculum this week. The school pioneered the program last fall; it gives students who are forced to work during the day a chance to attend college while also dealing with the school’s ever growing student population.

The idea for the midnight classes originated in the fall of 2008 after Adjunct Professor Dr. Kathleen O’Neil noticed several students falling asleep during her Principals of Psychology class.

“I was teaching two separate classes,” said O’Neil, who also teaches a seminar for U.S. military veterans. “[One student] who would come to class, he would fall asleep in class. I think he worked stock at a grocery store. He would apologize so much, saying how much he really loved the class, how much he really wanted to do well, but he worked late at night and just couldn’t get to class. And when he got to class he couldn’t stay awake.”

O’Neil continued, “At the same time I was teaching another class, and this guy worked in Cambridge in a restaurant, and he said he too loved the class; he just could not get to class at 10 in the morning.”

O’Neil later went and pitched her idea to the chairperson of the Behavioral Science Department and midnight classes became a reality. In the fall 2009 semester, BHCC offered their first two midnight classes, Principals of Psychology and College Writing, becoming the first college in the country to do so.

Since then, O’Neil says she has noticed a variety of different students enrolling in midnight classes. However, the majority of them are older students who would not be able to attend classes during the day.

“Overall I would say, in terms of all the many different ways you look at students, they are across the board,” O’Neil said. “We do have some 18 year olds, although as a group they do tend to be older. I would say more often then not they have kids, but then again there are some students who are taking [the course] because they couldn’t get in [during] the daytime.”

One student who takes midnight classes said she does so because it’s one of the only times that her schedule allows her to attend school. Kristen Casazza is a single mother who cannot attend classes during the day because she has been unable to secure daycare for her daughter.

“I am a single mother and I have been on a waiting list for a voucher for daycare,” said Casazza, who also works at Nonnie’s Pizza. “I have to take care of my daughter during the day.”

Although Casazza gets baby-sitting help from her parents, she has to juggle her work schedule and study time around when they are available to baby-sit.

“My parents help me out with [child care], but I technically have to make my schedule around when they can help me.” Casazza said. “And then [there’s] my work schedule and spending time with my daughter.”

Casazza described her schedule, “I come [to class] and stay here until 2:45 a.m. I have to wake up at about 7:30-8 with my daughter, and then I have to come back here at 10:30 tomorrow morning for another class. Go back home, get her, feed her lunch then go to work at 4:30. Work until about midnight again, and go to class at about nine o’clock in the morning on Saturday.”

 Another student enrolled in midnight classes because his job and family obligations currently prevent him from taking classes during the day. The man is Boston Police Officer Dennis Medina.

“I was actually working and I drove by Bunker Hill and I saw a sign that said, ‘Burn the midnight oil,’” said Medina, a criminal justice major at BHCC. “I looked at my partner and I said to him, ‘I think that’s my class.’”

Medina later signed up for a college writing course at midnight. However, like many other midnight students, his biggest obstacle is keeping up with his course work while also keeping Boston a safe place to live.

“For me it’s just fitting it all in,” Medina said. “Fitting in the classes between work, getting the study time in, still doing the stuff that I like to do, working out, hanging out. You know, doing things that would be normal for you almost takes a back seat so that you can get time in to finish your work.”

Medina added, “For right now it works extremely well with my schedule because I work 4-11:45 p.m. There are days, sometimes I have court [up to five times a week]. It all depends. There will be weeks when there is no court, and there will be weeks where I am in court everyday. That, and my days off change every week, so I don’t have a set schedule in that way.”

            Currently BHCC offers three midnight classes: Principals of Psychology, College Writing II, and Human Growth and Development. The college is planning to add more midnight classes for next fall.

            “Teaching the midnight classes has actually been a real eye opener, just in terms of the types of students who are so interested and so dedicated to achieving their dreams,” said O’Neil. “For many of our students it’s been decades since they have been in school.”

            Midnight classes also brought BHCC a Gold for Communications Success Story at the Paragon Awards this year. This distinction is given in recognition for outstanding achievement in communications at community and technical colleges by the National Council for Marketing & Public Relations. The award was accepted on behalf of BHCC by Colleen Roach, Executive Director of Communications and Marketing, who ran one of the largest media and marketing campaigns in the history on the college.

While the college has received accolades for its innovative course offerings, its students are also being recognized for excellence. Along with attending midnight classes, Medina was selected to be part of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Take America to College competition, a nationwide video competition featuring the struggles of nontraditional students trying to complete college. Earlier this year, Medina and the Take America To College team traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with federal policy makers and share his story.

“For me, it was for them to realize that there are working men and women who are struggling, that aren’t being helped, that aren’t looked ou
t for,” Medina said. “When I say that, I mean you’ve got people who are working full-time jobs and they are not getting that benefit, you know the financial aid or the assistance because they are working, so it’s almost like the working man and woman is being punished because they are working.”

To view Medina’s video visit http://www.takeamericatocollege.com/auditions-gallery/vote-for-a-finalist/.

For more information about Bunker Hill Community College, please visit http://www.bhcc.mass.edu/.

 

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