Jon Strelecki

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Like many first-year teachers, Luisana Regidor has a lot on her mind. There are lesson plans to write and papers to grade as well as a dozen other things: evaluations, observations, fundraisers, class trips. It's overwhelming.

"Last Wednesday, I left here and I got in my car and I just cried," says Regidor, who teaches U.S. history at Schurz High School in Chicago. "Everything was hitting me at once."

Regidor, 31, says other teachers warned her that the first year could be rough, but in September she was full of ideas and energy.

This month, NPR is shining a spotlight on 15-year-old girls — and we've invited our audience members to share their own stories about being 15.

The girls in our #15Girls series face big challenges and have big dreams. We've met girls so intimidated by the gang violence in El Salvador that they're afraid to leave home — and one girl who became a paramedic to help victims.

It's been a year since thousands of unaccompanied minors surged into the U.S., overwhelming some school districts. These children, many of whom don't speak English and have lived through violence, trauma and abuse, pose a serious challenge to schools. Some districts weren't ready. Oakland, Calif., was.

It was spring of 2014, well before the headlines had begun, when teachers at Oakland Unified realized something was wrong. A lot of students were missing class regularly — and not just playing hooky.

Of all the teachers in the U.S., only 2 percent are black and male. That news is bad enough. But it gets worse: Many of these men are leaving the profession.

Just last month, a new study found that the number of black teachers in the public schools of nine cities dropped between 2002 and 2012. In Washington, D.C., black teachers' share of the workforce dropped from 77 percent to 49 percent.

Some new research suggests that ending America's devastating problems with school segregation is good for white kids, too. Over at NPR Ed, our colleague Anya Kamenetz describes these findings:

Recently a neighborhood in Brooklyn made national headlines for a fight over public schools. Lots of affluent, mainly white families have been moving into new condos in the waterfront area called DUMBO, and the local elementary school is getting overcrowded.

The city wants to redraw the zones in a way that would send kids from this predominantly white school to a nearby school where enrollment is over 90 percent black and Hispanic and which draws many of its students from a public housing project. Some parents on both sides of the line balked.

It used to be a given: When your kids reached school age, they'd strap on their backpacks and head for the neighborhood elementary school. Or, you'd pay a hefty tuition to send them to private school.

In the last two decades, a third option has emerged. Today, there are more than 6,000 charter schools in the country. And lately, they've been the subject of passionate and often acrimonious debate about the right way to fix public education in America.

Small town doesn't quite describe Bethune, Colo. It spans just 0.2 square miles and has a population of 237. There's a post office, but it's open only part time. There's not a single restaurant, and the closest big store is in Kansas.

That didn't stop Ailyn Marfil from moving to Bethune a couple of months ago. In fact, she thinks it's a pretty exciting place to live. "I was looking for speed and action, and so Bethune gave me speed and action. More than I expected," she says.

Just off the Old Dixie Highway in Northwest Georgia, a white building stands proudly on a hilltop.

"To me, it looks like a church," says Marian Coleman, who has taken care of this building for some 20 years. She stands out front, looking up at the gleaming paint, the big windows and the pointed roof.

It never was a church. Instead, it was a two-room schoolhouse.