CASPER, Wyo. — At 3:20 p.m. Wednesday, Roosevelt High School buzzed with students.
The school day had ended 15 minutes ago for all but 74 students -- more than half the school -- who chose to take an extra class this semester.
Roosevelt teachers taught eight classes this semester during an optional sixth block: Shakespeare, anatomy and physiology, math tutoring, personal and social responsibility, driver's education, algebra II, health occupations and guitar.
Sixth block expanded course offerings, increased credit recovery options and allowed students to shift their schedules so more classes happened later in the day instead of earlier.
"There's such a need for kids to work outside the school day," teacher Rick Zimmer said. "The teenage brain works a little differently."
Zimmer had always wanted to teach a health occupations class but never had the opportunity in the tight daily schedule. Students learn medical terms, basic anatomy, occupations and recreational wellness, activities they can do in their daily lives. The students raised $4,300 for meningitis vaccines and ran in a 5K race in Colorado in April.
As an alternative high school, Roosevelt was often used as a holding ground for students who left other schools. Zimmer said the school used to offer only low-level classes, but that's changed in the past few years as Roosevelt built a program to support full-time students on track to graduate.
"The emphasis is you have to perform if you're here," Zimmer said. "There has to be growth."
Growth on test scores and in graduation rates are expected from Roosevelt as the recipient of a federal School Improvement Grant. The school has used the three-year, $1.4 million grant in myriad ways to boost student achievement.
The grant paid for teacher stipends and materials -- including eight guitars -- for sixth block courses, a cost of about $40,000 for the semester, Principal Shawna Trujillo said.
"This grant has been a real gift," Trujillo said. "Sixth block is the best period of the day."
Student interest will drive future classes, Trujillo said. Possible courses for next year include stained glass and digital photography -- classes with expensive materials that wouldn't be possible in the school's regular budget.
Roosevelt taught a class or two, such as chemistry, after school in the past to help students meet requirements for the Hathaway Scholarship, teacher Mark McAtee said.
"Students seem to enjoy the sixth block class more than the first five," McAtee said.
The sixth block courses expanded opportunities beyond core requirements. Before sixth block, if students wanted to take driver's education, they had to go to Kelly Walsh High School or enroll in summer school. The math courses help students catch up or pull ahead.
Students need three science classes to graduate. Roosevelt only offered three -- biology, physical science and environmental science. Now, students can choose environmental science or anatomy.
Sierra Sterling, a senior graduating next week, didn't need anatomy to fulfill a requirement but thought it would help prepare her to study nursing.
"I really wanted that extra jump at anatomy because I'm terrified at not succeeding at college," Sterling said. "I wouldn't stay after school if I wasn't interested in it or it didn't benefit me in some way."
Sterling said her day is longer, but she doesn't mind it. Before, she went home and listened to music until her parents came home.
A music class hasn't been taught at Roosevelt in years. The guitar elective took students at every level. More advanced students played solos and improvised while others played chord progressions. The students plan to play at graduation.