When Jill Wahman began attending classes at Milford Mill High School in September, some of the students in her biology class thought she was an undercover narcotics detective.
"There were about five [students] in the back of the class that kept chanting, 'Narc, narc, narc,' " says Wahman's biology teacher, Jill Chambers.
But Wahman isn't at Milford Mill to observe other students. Fourteen years after the 32-year-old mother of two was scheduled to graduate from Franklin High School in Baltimore County, she has returned to school determined to earn the credits she needs for a regular county high school diploma.
Wahman is one of four adults taking advantage of the county's new adult education program that permits people within a few credits of graduating to attend regular classes in one of five participating high schools.
The five are Sparrows Point, Overlea, Loch Raven, Western School of Technology and Milford Mill. Other schools are expected to join next year.
According to Dale R. Rauenzahn, specialist of alternative programs for the Office of Adult Education, the program has been a success.
"We're real pleased," Rauenzahn says, adding that the office plans to place five or six more adult students in high school next semester.
Although the county has offered evening classes for adults who wish to earn high school general equivalency diplomas for many years, nights can be inconvenient for people with children. And earning a diploma through day classes differs from getting a general equivalency diploma or a Maryland External High School Diploma.
Adults must prepare themselves for a GED exam, and there is no teaching in the external diploma program, Rauenzahn says. "You bring your skills, and we'll assess you," he says.
Though Wahman tried to prepare for the GED on her own, she decided that she would learn more if she had a teacher to help direct her studies. Her classes at Milford Mill also permit her to continue her part-time job as a day care mom and to be home at night with her husband and children.
For David Granese, a 24-year-old student at Loch Raven, day classes mean he can keep his job as a chef and still attend school to make up the half-credit he needs to get his diploma.
And he feels less pressure now than he did when he was a student at Towson High.
"It's not like I have to get up at 8 in the morning," he says. "It's a more relaxing atmosphere."
Wahman left high school in her senior year, three months before graduation, to work as a veterinary assistant, she says. A diploma "wasn't really an important asset."
"I wanted to make money. You're just not aware of how important [school] is to you."
She soon married, had a baby and ran a home day care center before asking herself where her career was going.
"I promised myself that I would . . . somehow continue my education and make something more out of it."
Now, Wahman works as a day care mom from 5:30 a.m. to 8:15 a.m., is at Milford from 11:50 a.m. to 1:25 p.m. and is a day-care mom again from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Then she has dinner to make, children to put to bed and homework to do.
"My husband's very supportive," she says. "He'll make lunches in the evening while I'm doing homework at the kitchen table."
The most difficult part about attending school with younger students, Granese and Wahman agree, is changing classes or walking in the halls.
"The kids are doing splits, screaming, hollering -- normal things that I would have done when I was in high school," Wahman says. "But I'm not in that mode anymore. I'm not bouncing off the walls."
Milford Principal Morris Hoffman says that having Wahman at the school has some impact on students in her classes.
"It's a motivational factor," he says. "The behavior of an adult is quite a bit different than what you get from the students . . . If you had enough adults in a classroom, it would almost be like a college setting."
Joan L. Powell, principal at Loch Raven, agrees.
"Students get to see adults in a different setting. They see how hard these adults work," she says.
"And the adults have shared with them some of the pitfalls that they encountered, and what it was like to be out of school without having finished."
Wahman says she hopes she does inspire the students to do well and complete their studies.
"I think it's important that they know how important their education is.
"There's times when I just get so exhausted . . . but I feel that I have to do [well] for the kids in my class," she says.
One student that Wahman is especially proud to have affected is her 13-year-old daughter, Christine, a student at Franklin Middle School.
"She sees how important this is to me . . . I think she's trying more this year than she would have."