Zero hour courses offer Lawrence high school students more class options and the chance to leave early at the end of the day.
While most of their fellow classmates were rolling out of bed and finding breakfast, the members of Paul Stuewe's Lawrence High School history class already were at their desks, participating in a discussion about Election Day.
They are among high school students in Lawrence who are taking courses at the zero hour, as it is called, starting at 7:10 a.m., 60 minutes before the regular school day begins.
The zero hour is a popular one, particularly at Free State High School, where more than half of the school's 1,163 students are taking a zero hour course. About 25 percent of the 1,215 Lawrence High School students are enrolled in a zero hour course.
The early class means freedom for many, who either get out early or are able to take an extra class each semester.
College-motivated students, in particular, can be limited by the regular six-course schedule, said Sherry Slade, Free State counselor.
"There's not room in the day unless they take a zero hour to do everything that they want," Slade said.
By taking Stuewe's United States history advanced placement course, Justin Shmalberg freed up his schedule to take debate sixth hour.
"I have seven classes," Shmalberg said. "This is the only way to fit them in."
With only a couple of exceptions, the courses offered at the zero hour also can be taken at other times during the day. The variety includes German V, Auto Tech II and everything in between. Free State offers 27 zero hour courses. Lawrence High offers 15, as well as a number of individual study or teacher aide courses.
Slade isn't sure when zero hour classes first were offered. She said they were being offered in 1977 when she came to the district.
By taking the zero hour, juniors and seniors can choose to leave early each day, at 2 p.m. instead of 3:05 p.m.
For Matt Collins, that gives him time for a quick trip home before soccer practice or a game.
It's supposed to shorten Stuewe's day as well.
"Officially it does, but I never seem to get away," he said.
As a group, Stuewe's students aren't as sleepy as one might expect.
"Try to get this many adults together at seven o'clock in the morning," Stuewe said.
There is no bus service for zero hour students, and Slade said it may be a bit harder for the students to make class on time.
Stuewe said there are always a handful of students who have problems getting to class on time. But on the whole, they make a great effort.
It was hard at first, Shmalberg said. "After about two or three weeks, it becomes habit."
By its nature, zero hour tends to draw students who are more motivated than the average.
"The students really have to want to be here," Stuewe said.
In addition to the freedom of class choice, there are other perks that come with the zero hour, Stuewe's students said.
"This is the only class you're allowed to eat in," said Hayley Hickerson.
It's easy to find a parking space, said Arundhati Pal.
Even so, Stuewe's students are not the envy of their fellow classmates.
"A lot of people wouldn't consider taking zero hour. They have a hard time waking up for first hour," Shmalberg said.
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