From the quotes on the wall to the lockers and tables with attached seats, there's nothing unusual about this corner of William Penn Senior High School.

Students here learn math, English, social studies and science. They eat lunch together and earn recess time when they behave. They recite the Pledge of Allegiance every morning.

Yet, the York City School District's new Cornerstone program is designed specifically for students whose needs aren't being met in a regular classroom.

Here, a stress ball is as important as the chalkboard.

Teachers use such tools to teach kids how to cope with frustration and anger. Instead of poking your neighbor, rip a few sheets of paper.

When students learn positive coping skills -- and stop getting into trouble -- they should be better equipped to learn. And they'll know how and when to ask for help, said Renee Nelson, the Cornerstone fifth-grade teacher and a member of the York City Council.

"This way, they can be ready and properly address what they need to the teacher," Nelson said.

How it started: The Cornerstone program is a direct result of the district's recovery plan, which aims to stabilize district finances through academic improvements. To achieve that goal, teachers and administrators have developed tiered intervention programs for students with academic and behavioral problems -- sometimes both.

Cornerstone is considered a "tier 3" intervention, the most significant.

Students are temporarily removed from their home schools to begin attending classes at the high school, where a lower-level area separate from older students was prepared for the program's third-, fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders. Upstairs there are Cornerstone classrooms for the seventh- through 12th-graders.

Each student has his or her own individualized plan. Every day, the curriculum includes character education. Progress reports go home to parents daily.

So far, seven students are enrolled in the program.

That's far from the program's maximum capacity, said Mindy Sweitzer, the program's administrator.

Cornerstone can accommodate as many as 24 students in each of the grades 3-8. There are 12 slots for each of the high-school grades, Sweitzer said.

Staffing: Eight teachers, a behavioral specialist, social worker and administrator are dedicated to Cornerstone. The staff hosted an open house earlier this month for members of the community.

The student population might be small right now, but there have already been successes, Sweitzer said.

A fifth-grader, for example, came to Cornerstone with a shoddy attendance record magnified by a history of suspensions.

"He's been here every day," Sweitzer said of the young boy's record at Cornerstone. "He has really come a long way."

-- Reach Erin James at