While most freshmen entering Carson High School this week are worried about keeping up with fashion trends, first impressions and acne, one 15-year-old girl is coming off a stint as a prostitute and trying to kick a methamphetamine addiction.
Early last spring, she left her Carson City home to visit her dying father in Sacramento. But weeks after she arrived, he turned her out.
"It was cold," she remembered. "Actually, it was freezing."
She ended up living along the Sacramento River and speaks candidly about finding men who would pay her up to $100 for sex.
"They were always on the river," she said, flicking the ash from her cigarette. "They approached me -- I would just stand there and look cute."
But she argues she had no choice.
"It sucked, but I had to do it so I would have money to eat and money to buy drugs."
After her father died, she returned to Carson City where she lives with her mother, her mother's boyfriend and five cats in a motel room.
Slouching in a chair, she recounted the people she met along the way -- some trying to help -- and looked at photo albums with pictures of her father before he was diagnosed with liver cancer. She smiled at some of the memories, then laid the album on the table next to a crock pot, the contents long cold, and an open bag of pork rinds.
She said she has not done meth in four months.
"I don't want to do it anymore," she insisted and lit another cigarette. "It (messed) up my life. It made me stupid."
High school represents a second chance for a girl who has seen more of life's tragedy than most adults.
"I want to graduate so I can go to college and get the job I want," she hoped out loud. "I want to be a wild-animal veterinarian."
But she admitted feeling out of place among her peers.
"I don't talk to anybody at school," she said. "Most of the time, I'm getting teased or I'm just not into the same things. I feel like an adult."
She laughed when asked if she could relate to students entering high school hoping to find their first boyfriend or girlfriend, confessing she'd been sexually active since 10.
"I've just been through a lot more than most kids who are 15," she said, adding that she can't remember ever feeling like a child.
Carson High School Principal Glen Adair said administrators often must balance the wide scope of social backgrounds of students attending the only high school in town, where more that 2,700 students are expected to attend this year.
"We run the gamut," Adair said. "Every social problem that is in our community is in our school."
But he finds hope in the programs offered through the school and through community resources.
He pointed to the homeless program, which provides shoes, clothing and backpacks for transient students as well as counselors and nurses.
The high school also has a peer counseling program where students help one another.
"Sometimes, it's just a friendly voice or a person to talk to," he said. "There's no betrayal and no jeering."
An alternative high school, Pioneer, was established for students who have jobs or who need a smaller setting. New Horizons High School is for expectant parents.
However, he said the programs that often help students cannot completely solve their problems.
"That's the big question: How do you save a kid from their own circumstance?" he asked. "They just have to know they are valued and important, that they are responsible for breaking the cycle in their own family tree. And that is easier said than done."