The rumble of a trash can being pushed down the hallway by a maintenance worker momentarily distracts students studying science, math and social studies at Kenwood Senior High School in eastern Baltimore County.
It's a little past 5 p.m., but these 19 students aren't staying after school. Their day started when school ended because of something they have in common -- they've all been expelled from their neighborhood schools.
"In Baltimore County, expulsion does not mean you're out of here for good, just until you get your act together," said Dale Rauenzahn, who runs alternative education programs for the school system.
One place students do that is in an afternoon program, commonly known as Twilight School, offered three days a week from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at nine schools throughout the county.
On a recent afternoon at Kenwood, the students were quiet andwell-behaved, although a few sulked by themselves, apparently unhappy to be there. One boy who was supposed to be in class was spotted wandering outside. An adult was dispatched to get him.
As in neighborhood schools, students started the day in homeroom but were soon dispersed to three classrooms. In science class, six students sat around in a small group with their teacher and talked about the oceans and tides.
Because they were so quiet, answered questions correctly and read from the text when asked, it was jarring to hear why they were there.
"Truancy, two counts of fighting and possession of drugs," one 15-year-old girl named Angel rattled off when asked why she was expelled.
"Violent behavior toward other students," said Eric, 14, expelled.
"Possession of a deadly weapon, chronic disruptive behavior and disrespecting the staff," said Jim, 14.
Yet a 13-year-old girl named Kwame', who was expelled from school for fighting, insisted, "Everybody's good here."
She wasn't being cynical. She meant that in the afternoon school, behavior problems are few.
Denise Roberts, the teacher who runs the afternoon program at Kenwood, agreed. But she said the students don't all arrive at the school that way.
"A lot of them may come in with a chip on their shoulder," Ms. Roberts said. "They are angry at what happened at their day school or they are angry at life in general. Everything is everybody else's fault. But you see a change in them when they walk out of here."
One reason is that controlling behavior in an unruly student and giving them positive attention is a lot easier when the teacher has only six or seven students in a class, Ms. Roberts explained. If there are more than 10 students in a class, a second teacher is called in.
The students also must meet with a counselor who comes in for group or one-on-one sessions two hours a week. Pupil personnel workers, who act as liaisons between the school and the student's home, come around several times a week.
Because the students may all be studying different things at their various schools, teachers at the alternative schools focus on basic skills, vocabulary and individualized lessons.
Students expelled from county schools do not have to attend the afternoon schools or the evening schools for older students, said Mr. Rauenzahn. But if they want to be accepted back into their day schools, they must successfully complete some type of alternative educational program.
In addition to the twilight and night schools, that could include taking vocational classes at one of the county's career centers or taking courses toward a General Equivalency Diploma, he said.
So far this year, 286 students have been expelled from the county's middle or elementary schools, and 246 of them have attended one of the nine afternoon school programs.
Students generally attend the schools for one quarter, about 10 weeks, before they are allowed to go back to their neighborhood schools.Some remain longer, often at the request of their parents, administrators said.
Mr. Rauenzahn said his studies show that about 90 percent of the students who attend the alternative schools go back and complete their education at neighborhood schools.
Teachers at the alternative schools say they frequently have to remind students they will eventually have to go back to their neighborhood schools because sometimes the students don't want to leave.
"I like it here because of the personal attention," said Angel, the 15-year-old who was expelled for possession of drugs.
"It's better than day school," agreed Jim, the 14-year-old kicked out for possessing a deadly weapon.