Most teenagers say the hardest part of going to school is getting up early.
Seventeen-year-old Jennifer Cruz rolls out of bed at 5:30 in the morning.
“I’m just so tired,” she says. “I don’t want to get up but I know I have to, so I’m up.”
Her little nephew is still sleeping. So Jennifer tiptoes across the hallway to the bathroom and gets ready.
As she brushes her long brown hair, she thinks back to the school uniform she had to wear in El Salvador.
“It was green, red and white,” Jennifer recalls. “I had to wear a skirt with long white socks and black shoes.”
In America, the "unofficial" teenage uniform starts with skinny jeans. Jennifer wears a black pair today, a red top with some sequins and black boots.
Her older sister, Yesenia, got these hand-me-down clothes from friends.
“Sometimes my co-workers give me free clothes,” Yesenia says. “I’ll tell them that I have a sister, I’ll show them a picture of her, and they'll say ‘I have something that will fit her.’ ”
Yesenia wants her baby sister to fit in.
But Jennifer is not your typical teenager.
Violent gang members threatened her life inside and outside of school in El Salvador, even shooting at her when she walked home alone.
To escape the violence, Jennifer left the home she knew and journeyed across three borders in the hands of a smuggler.
She lives with Yesenia in San Mateo County, and now finds herself navigating the halls of an American high school for the first time.
Jennifer says being a new student, in a new country, makes her feel vulnerable all over again.
“I thought maybe the kids were going to ignore me or tease me because I’m an immigrant,” Jennifer says. “When I showed up [to school] on my first day, I was trembling with fear.”
She says she has been surprised to find lots of new immigrant kids like her at school.
Every day, she and other newcomers take three English-language crash courses to help them with the basics -- from vocabulary to reading comprehension.
Jennifer is also taking remedial algebra, P.E. and art classes with other English-speaking students.
Comprehending all this new information is coming along slowly for her -- especially the English.
Even if she were fluent tomorrow, Jennifer would not be able to graduate. School officials say that because she turns 18 next year, she will not have enough time to satisfy all the high school requirements in time. Jennifer will have to enroll in adult school or find work at the end of next year.
Jennifer, however, is not worried about her academic future right now.
So what is on her mind? Like any teenager, the excitement of making new friends at school.
“We all sit on the [school] stairs and eat together,” Jennifer says. “It’s our little group. If one of us doesn’t show up to school, we will call them on their cellphone to find out what’s going on.”
But Jennifer admits she still does not trust her new friends well enough to share the details of what she faced in El Salvador.
One of her few private moments is the bus ride home. She heads straight to the back, taking a seat by the window.
Jennifer thinks about her legal case and her mom.
Her mother has been threatened by gangs in their neighborhood in El Salvador, so she is now taking refuge at a nearby church.
Jenni really worries.
Then, later that night, she receives an unexpected phone call. Her mom borrowed a smartphone and, for the first time, they have a live video connection.
“Hola Mommy! How are you? Did you work today?,” asks Jennifer in Spanish as she bounces up and down on her bed with excitement.
She hands the phone to Yesenia, who hasn’t seen their mother in 10 years. Yesenia begins to cry.
The past year has been rough for Yesenia.
She and her husband are struggling to support three relatives, their own 4-year-old, and now Jennifer . She also has to miss work so she can join her sister at her legal appointments and proceedings.
“It’s very difficult right now,” Yesenia says. “Right now my husband is working extra to pay the rent. We pay for anything they need.”
The good news is the sisters have found a pro bono lawyer after months of searching.
They’re working with the attorney to build Jennifer's court case so she can qualify under what’s called "special immigrant juvenile status."
Her legal case comes before the court in three weeks.