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There's a hidden crisis among California's rural kids. Would this teen make it?

Hailey Branson-Potts, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

ALTURAS, Calif. — Linda Plumlee struggled to look alert in her economics class.

Her teacher was asking whether the students had heard about the recent closure of Silicon Valley Bank. (They had. On TikTok.)

Plumlee, a bubbly cheer team captain and student body president at Modoc High School, sipped an iced oat milk caramel macchiato. She was exhausted. And she had to go straight to work — at one of her two jobs — after class that snowy spring day.

She was waiting for college acceptance letters. She had a speech competition to prepare for. Homework to catch up on. Scholarship essays to write. And yet another room to finish moving into.

For more than two years, Plumlee, 18, had essentially been homeless.

She'd bounced around this rural Northern California town, sleeping on couches and spare beds and, for a stretch, the back seat of her car — all while organizing blood drives and getting good grades and helping classmates with their homework.


Like Plumlee, even the most ambitious students in California's impoverished rural north often deal with extreme challenges, including poverty and neglect, at higher rates than anywhere else in the state.

For Plumlee, academics were a ticket out of Alturas, a cattle-ranching town of 2,700.

"I want a future," she said. "I want to do something with my life. And I'm the only one who's going to get me there."

Plumlee is so responsible that other kids called her mom. Most people didn't know what she was going through outside of school.


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