It's before sunrise, and the janitor at Burns High School has already been down the length of a hallway, cleaning and sweeping classrooms before the day begins.
This particular janitor is painstakingly methodical, even as she administers a mental quiz on an upcoming test. Her name is Dawn Loggins, a straight-A senior at the very school she cleans.
On this day, she maneuvers a long-handled push broom between rows of desks. She stops to pick up a hardened, chewed piece of gum. "This annoys me, because there's a trash can right here," she says.
The worst, she says, is snuff cans in urinals. "It's just rude and pointless."
With her long, straight dark blonde hair and black-rimmed glasses, Dawn looks a bit like Avril Lavigne. But her life is a far cry from that of a privileged pop star.
She was homeless at the start of the school year, abandoned by her drug-abusing parents. The teachers and others in town pitched in -- donating clothes and providing medical and dental care. She got the janitorial job through a school workforce assistance program.
She's grateful for the work. But it's where she's going next, beyond the walls of Burns, that excites her most. She applied to four state colleges and one dream university. She'll graduate soon before heading off, leaving her dust pan behind.
For now, there's still work to be done. She stops for a quick bite to eat in the custodial closet amid Pine-Sol and Clorox. She then darts to classes -- three advanced placement courses and an honors class.
Growing up without electricity
Dawn grew up in a ramshackle home with no electricity and no running water. She often went days, even weeks without showering. She and her brother Shane -- who was equally studious in his schoolwork -- would walk 20 minutes to a public park to fetch water.
"We would get water jugs and fill them up at the park, using the spigots in the bathroom. And we would use that to flush the toilet or cook with. Stuff like that," she says.
She confided in a staff member at school. She had trouble doing homework at nighttime because her home had no electricity and she couldn't afford candles. It was difficult to read in the dark.
"OK, we'll get you some candles. We'll take care of that," said Junie Barrett, Dawn's supervisor.
Another time, Barrett says, Dawn and her brother asked if they could use the school's washing machine to clean their clothes. "I said, 'Just leave them with me. We'll get them washed, dried,' " Barrett recalls.
"We let them use our shower facilities in the locker rooms because they had no running water. They had nothing to bathe in."
Burns High was their fourth high school since middle school, as they moved from town to town. Living the life of a rolling stone, the two had missed several months' worth of classwork when they first arrived two years ago, putting them well behind other students' progress.
Shane was outgoing, but Dawn always appeared more reserved.
Guidance counselor Robyn Putnam saw the potential in Dawn and Shane early on and enrolled them in online classes to get them caught up. The work paid off.
Abandoned by parents
Last summer, Dawn was invited to attend a prestigious six-week residential summer program, the Governor's School of North Carolina, at Meredith College in Raleigh, 200 miles east of Lawndale, to study natural science. It was a field Dawn had never studied before.
The program is reserved for the state's top students.
Putnam ferried Dawn to Raleigh to attend the elite program and took her shopping, making sure she had the clothes she needed. Other faculty members contributed funds, too.
Putnam worried Dawn's home situation could worsen while she was away. "We weren't even sure where her parents were at that time. And there was an eviction notice on the house," she says. "We kept telling her to get everything she could; we knew this was a possibility."
Dawn saw her parents for 30 minutes during the middle of the summer program during a short break. They talked about her school and how she was doing. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. "It was just a regular conversation," she says.
She wouldn't hear from them again for weeks.