It’s Midnight. Why Aren’t You In Class?



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The recession has sent more people back to school, and Massachusetts is no different. At Bunker Hill Community College in Boston, enrollment is up 23 percent since last year. The college is taking extraordinary steps to address the lack of space and the needs of working students — midnight classes.

Hector Gonzalez is late for the 11:45 class. But he stops in the lobby for coffee. He’ll need it to get through the almost three hour lecture.

(Bianca Vazquez Toness/WBUR)

Tanneke Burns is taking two midnight classes. The mother of five, who draws blood for the Red Cross, wants to be a nurse. (Bianca Vazquez Toness/WBUR)

“Basically, this was the only class of psychology that was open,” he says, stirring creamer into his coffee.

Gonzalez is a police officer in Chelsea. He works at 7 a.m., but he needs Psychology 101 for his criminal justice degree. “I’d prefer to take it in-person,” he says, instead of online classes. “I’d rather have a teacher.”

Professor Kathleen O’Neill is standing in front of a classroom of 20 people. “When you think of psychology, what do you think of?,” she asks the group.

“The brain,” one student calls out.

“Yes, the brain,” O’Neill says. “Good. What else?”

O’Neill came up with the idea of these midnight sessions to deal with the increased enrollment at Bunker Hill Community College.

“There are so many students that want to come here, it would make sense to run it overnight,” she says. “Having teenagers myself I know they’re up at midnight. So, I thought why not just run it overnight and see what happens.”

Twenty-nine people signed up for the class. That’s almost the limit. On the first night, 20 people showed up.

(Bianca Vazquez Toness/WBUR)

Professor Kathleen O’Neill urged Bunker Hill to offer midnight classes. She teaches psychology from 11:45 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. (Bianca Vazquez Toness/WBUR)

Edwin Diaz rolled in late. The 20-year-old works at Logan Airport, taking bags off planes. His shift starts at 3 a.m. “This schedule does me good,” Diaz says. “I get up at 11:30, head over here, and then from there I go straight to work.”

After work, he’ll come back to Bunker Hill Community College.

“It’s kind of hard, but I gotta do it. I ain’t trying to work for no minimum wage job,” Diaz says. “I’m trying to make a career in criminal justice. I’m trying to be a detective. The more schooling you got, the more money you get. That’s what I’m looking for right now.”

It’s break time, and Tanneke Burns is working her way through a huge glass of iced coffee. The mother of five draws blood for the Red Cross, but she wants to become a nurse.

“I have family responsibilities, such as sporting events, that night classes aren’t necessarily conducive to,” Burns says. “I work crazy hours during the day, but I don’t work at this time of day, so it made sense.”

Burns is also signed up for the other midnight class, College Writing.

Professor Wick Sloane is teaching that class. He came out tonight to bring cookies for moral support.

“The tragedy in this country now is that there are so many motivated people and so little funding for them to go to college,” Sloane says. “For me this is a cry for help by all of them. That’s the reason to teach the class.”

If these first two classes are successful, Bunker Hill Community College may hold more midnight courses next semester.

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