She was 14 when she started living on the streets, although the streets doesn't begin to describe how ingenious she became in her selection of lodging.
Sometimes she and her friends, who couldn't stand their parents either, would break into model homes in new subdivisions. They'd pick a nicely furnished bedroom, sleep comfortably, then be gone by morning.Or sometimes she would move into an abandoned warehouse downtown. When she got hungry she begged for leftovers at fast food restaurants. She was on drugs, she drank and she sluffed school.
Now, three years later, she plans to go on to college, hoping eventually to get a doctorate in psychology.
What turned her around, she says, was a class for at-risk students run by counselors at Kearns High School. The class is one of several like it in the Salt Lake Valley and represents a new trend among school counselors - a move toward preventive intervention in student problems.
For at-risk students, says Kearns counselor Judy Peterson, those problems include dysfunctional families, abuse and poverty. These are the problems the students have little control over. But it also includes drugs, pregnancy, gang membership and sluffing - problems that the students can choose to do something about.
Educators these days call that choice "personal power."
"How many of you who sluff school actually think it through before you do it?" Peterson asks her class. Only a few students raise their hands.
"That's what we do in this class," she explains to the students who have just joined it, at the start of winter quarter. "We think about choices and about the kinds of decisions you make every day. . . . And we learn that there are consequences."
Like other counselors at Kearns, Peterson spends one hour a day teaching the class. The rest of her day is spent doing the usual school counselor kinds of things - talking to students one on one, changing class schedules, giving guidance about colleges, doing a lot of paper-work.
In the future, says Barbara Meyer, coordinator of secondary counseling for the Granite District, the hope is to free counselors from non-counseling tasks - clerical work, administering of tests and lunch room supervision. Instead counselors would assume a more "pro-active" role, says Meyer, teaching students skills to help them better survive adolescence.
The goal, she says, is to adopt a "comprehensive guidance model" for all students, kindergarten through 12th grade, even the students who are not so obviously "at risk."
For the students who are at risk, a class devoted exclusively to them and their problems gives them the kind of extra attention they need, says Peterson. Students have a chance to talk freely and are taught skills such as time management and better study habits.
"These are the kids who haven't had a positive experience in school. They tend to sit at the back. They've never been given any credit for who they are and what their meaning in the world is," she says.
"The class is a place where they can come and be recognized for who they are. They know there won't be any pressure. And it lets them know someone is there to help them survive."