A half-hour after pupils at Jones Elementary School settled down in their seats yesterday morning - their first day back from two days of storm closings - the lights went out. Again.
"It went blink, blink, blink. Off," said Christina Patrick, 10, who was sitting in a windowless music classroom at the time.
Grumbling a little but unfazed, teachers at the Severna Park school whipped out flashlights, herded kids next to windows and continued their lessons.
Jones Elementary was among dozens of schools in the Baltimore area still experiencing electricity failures yesterday as workers continued repairing downed power lines and clearing roads.
At two other Anne Arundel County schools, pupils were sent home around noon because school officials did not think power could quickly be restored. The lights went out at Mount Washington Elementary in Baltimore near the end of the school day, but pupils were dismissed at the usual time.
In Baltimore County, no schools went dark while in session. But some buses filled with children and headed to school had to be turned back yesterday morning after officials closed six more schools - on top of two dozen already shut down - because of overnight power outages.
Like residences and businesses, schools are at the mercy of the elements and the power grid.
"We just hang in there until we get feedback from Baltimore Gas and Electric," said Anne Arundel County Assistant Schools Superintendent Greg Nourse.
And even when the rain stops and power is back on, things can go awry.
When the lights flickered off at Jones Elementary, Principal Diane Bragdon hastened toward the office to reassure her 300 pupils over the loudspeaker. "Some of the little ones might be a little worried about this," she said, as she jogged down the darkened hallway in pumps.
But the announcement system was down like everything else, except for a handful of emergency lights and a single phone line.
After being directed by central administration to wait out the power outage, Bragdon began walking from class to class, urging pupils to stay calm and focused on their lessons.
"I bet the lights will come back on soon," she told a group of children sitting in a classroom dimly lighted by a corner window. "You're working so hard, and I'm so proud of you."
Some teachers abandoned their overhead projectors and picked up flashcards. Others gathered children around them to read books by the soft morning light. Some passed around flashlights and let children tell their storm stories.
"They're not skipping a beat, are they?" Bragdon said, as she made her rounds with a flashlight and two-way radio in hand.
In the school kitchen, parent volunteers and teaching assistants donned plastic gloves and formed an assembly line.
They helped the cafeteria staff assemble hundreds of ham-and-cheese subs because there was no way to heat the pizzas and hot dogs on the menu.
"We had to go from hot food to a cold menu," food service manager Betty Moore said as she supervised the sandwich-making and halved kiwis for dessert.
Shining the way
Around 11 a.m., more than an hour after the power had gone out, the battery-powered emergency lights flickered off as well.
Guidance counselor Connie Poussard stood at one end of a pitch-black hallway like an usher in a movie theater. As children emerged from classrooms to visit the nurse or the media center, she shone a flashlight along the hallway floor to show them the way.
Some, such as 11-year-old Courtney Johnston, were not afraid of the dark. "It's cool," she said as she walked briskly down the hall, clutching a yellow hall pass in her hand.
But Katie O'Neil, 8, said she didn't want to leave her classroom because the hallway was "dark and spooky."
`I want to go home'
Bragdon spotted a special-education pupil who was crying and asking for his mother. "This little boy has an anxiety disorder," she said, ushering him into her office. "I'm going to keep him with me."
The boy, who was new to the school, stopped whimpering as Bragdon showed him the fish and frog in her aquarium. The boy agreed to feed the fish with food from a yellow can, but then said, "I want to go home."
Unable to reach the boy's mother, his teacher led him to the blacktop, where dozens of children were playing in the sunshine after lunch.
Fifth-graders Michael Carr and Luke Kaulius squinted in the bright light and said they thought the power outage was fun.
"When you're in the dark, you don't have to work and you don't have to read," Michael said.
As the children played outside, the school's lights came back on.
Second-grade teacher Rebecca Ropp breathed a sigh of relief. After three hours of improvising activities in the dark, she could show her videotape about earthquakes, as she had planned.
"I'm awfully glad the lights came back on," she said.
Sun staff writers Liz Bowie, Tricia Bishop and Jonathan D. Rockoff contributed to this article.