When Dasani Left Home - The New York Times

“Yeah, ‘my closet’,” Tabitha calls out. “‘Look how big my closet is!'” Soon it’s time to say goodbye. Tabitha stands next to her h...


“Yeah, ‘my closet’,” Tabitha calls out. “‘Look how big my closet is!'”

Soon it’s time to say goodbye. Tabitha stands next to her husband, Jason, a 42-year-old bearded fat man who prefers wire-rimmed glasses and flannel shirts. Their sons, ages 8 and 11, will be home from school soon, along with a group of Hershey girls.

Tabitha holds Leo, the new puppy in the family. “Look at my baby now, okay? Chanel told the dog.

The two mothers kiss. They have already discussed Dasani’s “four week adjustment plan”. Chanel is entitled to a weekly phone call to Dasani at a predetermined time. There are no visits for a month – a separation designed to help incoming students form new bonds, especially with their stay-at-home parents.

It can bring a wave of emotions: sadness, guilt, confusion, rage. Some children rebel, hoping that their transgressions will send them home. But the longer they can endure this separation, the more likely they are to achieve the school’s goal of leading a “fulfilling and productive” life.

The unspoken message is clear. To get out of poverty, Dasani must also leave his family, at least for a while.

Dasani is awake that first night. She never slept alone. She continues to reach Lee-Lee. “I don’t know how to sleep with anyone,” she told me later. Outside, the sky is wide and dark, the snow almost silvery. Hershey is so quiet that any noise is shocking – the rustle of branches, the roar of a truck.

Everything looks different, even the air. A few meters away, Dasani’s 13-year-old roommate is sleeping soundly. She too is a city girl. But she came from Trenton, NJ eight years ago, which is long enough to learn how to sleep peacefully.

It’s not just homesickness that keeps Dasani awake. She feels the pressure of Hershey. “I believe I can make my dreams come true at this school,” she wrote in her journal. She makes little mention of her 11 roommates, lest they read the newspaper and turn on her. Earlier, they warmly greeted Dasani at dinner, nodding their heads in grace. She ate quickly, as if the food was in danger of disappearing. New students are not used to seconding portions or side dishes. Sometimes they keep their plates, hunched over each meal, or they try to ration it, piling up food in their napkins.

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