For Travis Morton, a 12-year-old seventh-grader at Godwin Middle School, going home after school meant finding an empty house, dragging out homework, watching television or napping.
But on Monday, he and more than 50 other students voluntarily stayed at Godwin after their classes were out, as special guests of the Prince William County Police Department.
Police have started an after-school program at the Dale City school, the first they have sponsored in the county. Godwin students can stay for about two hours after school to play games and sports, watch movies, work on homework or just hang out, all under the supervision of school resource officers.
After the program, which lasts from 3:15 p.m. to 5 p.m., the students ride the school's late activity bus home.
"I'm having a lot of fun because I get to play with a lot of my friends," said Travis, who was playing the board game Operation in the cafeteria. "I know I'll be here all this week."
The after-school program is only in its first week and already more than 120 parents interested in it have contacted police Officer Robert White, the school resource officer for Godwin. White said he expects many more as word of mouth spreads.
"The juvenile bureau decided we wanted to take on something like this," said White, who along with the resource officers from other schools watches the youngsters. "We wanted to provide some positive alternatives."
Besides keeping latchkey children in a safe place, White said, he hopes the program will also cut down on the county's juvenile crime rate.
On Monday, the first day of the program, a group of children acting as advisers to White wrote down their suggestions for future activities, such as dances and talent shows. Other children played Othello and Perfection or worked on their homework in the school cafeteria. Outside, police officers played one-on-one basketball and tossed a football with other students.
Jessica Denney, 13, said her after-school time at home was usually filled with homework or television. The new program is better, she said.
"After we do our homework, we can have a lot more stuff to do," said Jessica, an eighth-grader. She didn't mind the police presence at all.
"Kids love it when people are watching us, as long as we're not locked up," Jessica said.
Her friend, Ayanna Weeks, said the after-school program also could serve as a break for children who might be having difficulty at home.
"This is a good way to get away from it all," said Ayanna, a 14-year-old eighth-grader.
"So many kids have so many things going on with them and you don't even know."
Parents also have been quick to embrace the idea, even if their children aren't coming home to empty houses.
Debbie Sanders works at home, so she's there when her 11-year-old son, Tyler, gets home from school. But she's not able to talk with him immediately because she's still working. Now, when Tyler comes home, she's already done for the day.
"For us, it is just ideal," Sanders said. "This gives him the opportunity to socialize with a lot of people he already sees at school."
Plus, he's building a rapport with the police. "It's making [police] seem more human," she said.
"It's better than staying home," said Tyler, a sixth-grader.
Travis Morton's mother, Glenda Davis, said she didn't have to think twice before enrolling him.
"I said, 'Oh, yes, you're going,' " Davis said. "I think it's a very good idea. At least I know he's at the school doing something constructive and not running around in the street."
Police plan to reevaluate the program after a year, paying close attention to crime statistics in and around Godwin. If all goes according to plan, they will consider expanding the program to the other 10 middle schools in the county.
"For us, it's tremendous," said Godwin Principal Geoffrey Dodge. "It really helps build the relationship between the school, the students and the police."
CAPTION: Officer Robert White, school resource officer for Godwin Middle School, helps James Myrick with homework.
CAPTION: Officer Art Buckner shoots hoops with student Ollie Bennett. More than 50 Godwin students are staying after school to play games and sports, watch movies, do homework or just hang out.