Most of us have heard of the terms “first period” or “second period” class when students are describing their high school schedules, but how about Zero Period? Sound familiar? Well, if your answer is “no,” this article is for you. Even if you have heard of a Zero Period, it may be helpful to consider some new perspectives on the topic.
Gone are the days of rigid school schedules. Students’ needs have evolved alongside technology. Understanding the various needs of students has helped change the way schools design and implement daily or weekly schedules. Zero Period is a newer scheduling concept that many schools are now implementing as an option for student support and engagement. So, what do students do in a Zero Period?
Leading Up to a Zero Period
I know you want to hear about Zero Period, but let’s work up to that. Many schools are required by state mandates to have a schedule that begins and ends within a set window. For example, in some school districts, classes cannot officially begin before 8:30 AM. With a set window of time, schools have faced limiting the class choices and options for students. This is where having a Zero Period comes into play. Some schools have experimented with having a period that begins before the official start of the day to expand class options and provide more opportunities for students. While the set window of time is mandated, there are usually no restrictions to adding on to the set schedule.
So, essentially, a Zero Period is an optional period that is scheduled before the official beginning of school. This period is a full period, and many schools offer electives or advanced placement/honors classes during this time. One principal noted, “More than 50% of the school population cannot take classes that do not count for instructional minutes,” so a Zero Period is a good option for students to take additional classes.
Adding in a Zero Period offers students more opportunities. A student reporter at Oak Park High School explained, “Attending a Zero Period course will allow students to take another class or elective throughout the year, or it will allow for upperclassmen to have a free period at some point in the year. This is extremely helpful to maintaining a short school day as well as maintaining a support period every single day.”
What Are the Setbacks of a Zero Period?
While many schools have experimented with having a Zero Period, many administrators will share that having the additional period has been a challenge and has presented new problems that need addressing. So, before having a discussion on the benefits of a Zero Period, here are some of the challenges that schools have experienced.
While a Zero Period sounds ideal, school administrators have quickly learned that students could abuse the privilege of having access to more opportunities. For example, one challenge was the attendance policy. Without established rules and consequences, some schools faced abuses of attendance. At Bella Vista High School in Fair Oaks, California, the administration emphasized the importance of attendance when taking a Zero Period, stating, “Poor attendance and excessive tardiness are problems particularly identified with Zero Period classes.”
Many administrators and superintendents have struggled with justifying and maintaining a Zero Period. Some schools have even opted to discontinue offering the additional period, voicing concerns about student health, accessibility, and inequalities. As Zero Period is an optional period offered before the official start of the school day, students who want to take these courses must have transportation. School Administrator McGee argued that “Buses did not operate for zero period, so students needed their own transportation, a luxury not afforded to many of our less-affluent families.” He also shared further concerns about equal accessibility, noting, “Zero period was one more opportunity denied to the poor who already struggled for a modicum of equitable access.”
Student health was another concern among educators and administrators, focusing mainly on sleep and brain development. Many educators and administrators argued that ambitious students are sacrificing additional sleep by committing to additional courses. Students that are enrolled in Zero Periods have also noted how tired their classmates are and the problems with coming in late. One Zero Period student in the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School Districtshared, “Nearly half the students in her morning period were regularly absent, she said, adding that between going to class and sleeping in, many would choose the latter.” While many factors were involved in his decision to eliminate Zero Period from his school, School Administrator McGee noted that “A year later, students reported during focus groups they had less regular homework and were getting more sleep.”
Reviewing the perceptions and feedback of many students, educators, and administrators, there are some setbacks to having a Zero Period. However, for those administrators that offer the option, many have noted benefits only after strict policies and requirements were established and enforced.
What are the Benefits of Zero Period?
The benefits of a Zero Period come with well-established guidelines and expectations. As many administrators have stressed, the Zero Period is not a right but a privilege. Nevertheless, many ambitious students can maintain the extra course load and thrive on a Zero Period schedule.
At Aliso Niguel High School, Principal Nichols shared that “Zero Period classes are created based on the number of students who requested to take a zero period and what classes they are enrolled to take.” Many schools have experienced high demand for Zero Period classes. However, there are usually not enough courses offered to meet the demand. At some schools, the optional period is only available to juniors and seniors. At other schools, students must follow all attendance policies regarding Zero Periods, or they will lose the right to sign up for future Zero Periods.
The Zero Period benefits more than the academically gifted students. Students passionate about sports, music, and the arts also benefit from the optional periods. For example, students with the Zero Period option may be able to take a music or dance class without the worry of not having enough credit-bearing classes. One sports reporter noted the benefits to students involved in sports, stating, “The flexibility in a student’s schedule is only one of the benefits of taking Zero Period.”
A Zero Period Alternative
While a Zero period might seem appealing in an otherwise packed school day, especially for students who want to take on more, it can have a detrimental effect on student health and well-being, and even foster a highly competitive school culture.
It’s understandable that the traditional school day doesn’t fit the needs of all students. But, it’s possible to provide flexibility and opportunity without extending the school day or providing an optional period that begins before sunup. Making other scheduling adjustments, and adding one or more flex periods can give students time to extend class learning, work on projects, do work study assignments, enrichment, and more. A schedule like a Flex Mod opens up independent learning opportunities, where students can pursue big ideas and manage their course load.
Instead of waiting for student mental and physical health to deteriorate because of a demanding and competitive schedule, it makes sense to create shifts as soon as possible that will support students. Creating a daily flex period, in the middle of the school day, can create more equitable access to enrichment and extra help opportunities. It eliminates the need for students to be at school before or after hours.
For many students, having access to optional courses is beneficial. They can pursue their passions and interests and still meet the credit requirements set by their state. However, established rules need to be in place to prevent students from abusing the option, ensuring the time is used appropriately. In addition, other considerations should be factored into a decision about utilizing a Zero Period, such as student health and accessibility. Overall, if there is enough student demand and commitment to having a Zero Period, with the right policies and requirements in place, the option is beneficial to many students — but a flex period could be a better, more effective alternative.
Aguirre, A. (2001). The New Reality of Zero Period. The New Reality of Zero Period – the Growling Wolverine. https://thegrowlingwolverine.org/2641/opinion/the-new-reality-of-zero-period/
Bella Vista High School. (2022). Zero Period Attendance Policy. https://www.sanjuan.edu/domain/7949
Fossen, B. H. V. (2022). EYE 2 EYE: Are zero periods a good idea? Oak Park High School: Talon Online. https://oakparktalon.org/14996/opinion/eye-2-eye-are-zero-periods-a-good-idea/
Huff, N. (2020). Athletes in zero period lift, earn academic credit. The Megaphone. https://irishmegaphone.com/9160/sports/athletes-in-zero-period-lift-earn-academic-credit/
McGee, G. (2018). One Destructive Course Option: Zero Period. The School Superintendents Association. Retrieved November 29, 2022, from https://my.aasa.org/AASA/Resources/SAMag/2018/May18/McGee.aspx
Morgan, Z. M., Swartz , & Worthington. (2022). Local school districts take divergent views on the controversial zero period. The Almanac. https://www.almanacnews.com/news/2022/08/12/local-school-districts-take-divergent-views-on-the-controversial-zero-period