NIGHT SCHOOL REVISITED
FEBRUARY 23, 1996
More and more working Americans are choosing to continue their education at night. Rod Minott of KCTS-Seattle reports on a new twist to the old idea of night school.
ROD MINOTT: These high school students in Lacy, Washington, start school when most other classes have ended. New Century is Washington States' only public evening high school, where classes begin at 2:30 PM and end at 8:40 PM. Sixteen-year-old Jessica Stockdale is one of 230 students who have volunteered for the night shift.
JESSICA STOCKDALE, New Century Student: Most of my day school friends are like, well, how can you stay up so late and do all that so late at night? Well, like, how can you be up so early in the morning and do your school work in the morning, that's the point I bring up, is that I just work better at night and--
ROD MINOTT: During the day when most of her friends are at school, she goes to work, a part-time day job as a clerical assistant.
JESSICA STOCKDALE: I mean, right now it's really good experience for me, and it will help me get a job, a better job in the future than just working at a fast food restaurant, because I'll have clerical work, secretary work, on my resume, and that'll look better than a fast food restaurant.
ROD MINOTT: New Century, which shares its space with a normal day school, was started in part because of overcrowding at neighboring schools. Washington ranks third among states with the most crowded classrooms, and projections show it will get much worse. According to the U.S. Department of Education, Western states will see a 40 percent jump in high school enrollment. Gail McBride is new Century's principal. She says the night school has helped alleviate overcrowding since opening its doors six years ago.
GAIL McBRIDE, New Century Principal: At the time, there were two large high schools that were built for approximately 1200 students, and they were housing 1700. That changes things quite a bit, and the halls get very crowded, and the resources are stretched thin. It's a very cost-efficient program. It's used the facility twice, we have no construction costs that go into the millions of dollars over a series of years.
ROD MINOTT: Saving money on schools seems essential at a time when bond issues for education are routinely being defeated. So New Century offers a no-frills education. The only physical education class is night jogging. There are no sports teams and no school band. But some students seem to prefer this environment, according to principal McBride.
GAIL McBRIDE: They want a small school environment, and they want an education. They want a good education. They want to focus on academics. Some come because it's a refuge from the pom-poms, the athletics, the social pressure that those activities put on young people.
ROD MINOTT: In fact, standardized test scores show night school students doing better than their daytime counterparts. New Century math and science teacher Rosalind Phillips sees night school as an essential part of the education wave of the future.
ROSALIND PHILLIPS, New Century Teacher: I think this idea of having schools be open for longer periods of time and using facilities more wisely is one that's going to happen, and whether it's two separate schools like New Century and River Ridge, or whether it's one school with an extended day that goes from 7 in the morning to 9 at night, I think we're going to see that, particularly when we look at the fact that how we finance schools in the state. I think that rather than continuing to build new buildings all the time, we are going to have to look at some more efficient use of our space.
ROD MINOTT: But not everybody is convinced about night-schooling. In Puyallup, Washington, where three bond issues for a new high school have failed in the last two years, overcrowding has reached a crisis point, according to Stan Cross.
STAN CROSS, Rogers High: Our facilities currently are so overcrowded now we've been just kind of cramming the kids in each year.
ROD MINOTT: As an example, Cross says at Puyallup's Rogers High, 1800 students now squeeze into a building designed for 1400.
STAN CROSS: And you try to put 34 student desks into these small classrooms that are designed for 26, it is wall-to-wall student desk and it is--it is almost impossible for a teacher to get around and work one-on-one with any of the kids in their own classroom. And it gets miserable day in and day out to teach in that kind of a facility.
ROD MINOTT: High school senior Ann Erickson, who sits on a special committee charged with finding a solution to overcrowding, says the board considered adding a night school but decided not to.
ANNA ERICKSON, Rogers High School Student: Mostly for the reason of a disruption. It's hard to schedule. Also from an activities standpoint, it's really difficult to schedule football practices and basketball practices, and the facilities, and also if you have the demand of, you know, 4,000 students all wanting to use the same practice field, that, that has become a problem as well, as well as other extracurricular activities such as music and band and using the performing arts at night if you have classes going on, and things, there's just no time.
ROD MINOTT: Instead, Erickson says Puyallup likely will extend the school day by adding classes earlier in the morning and later in the afternoon. Dick Williams of the University of Washington sees all these solutions as temporary and inadequate.
DICK WILLIAMS, University of Washington: Maybe we should be re-thinking the way we fund our schools, but as long as we are doing it the way we do on the basis of property taxes and the like, you know, we're just going to keep bumping against this, and yeah, it bothers me. I think we should be building facilities to house our children. It's a wonderful investment. It's an important investment, and we seem to be backing away from it and trying the other systems.
ROD MINOTT: By 9 PM, Jessica Stockdale, the New Century senior, heads home, but her night shift is far from over. There's still homework to be done, at least two more hours of study time before her school day ends.