“Yes,’my closet'” Tabisa chimes. “‘Look at the size of my closet!'”
It’s time to say goodbye. Tabisa stands near her husband Jason. Jason is a tough, bearded, 42-year-old man who prefers wire-fringed glasses and flannel shirts. Their sons (8 and 11 years old) will soon be returning home from school with the Hershey girls.
Tabisa is holding Leo, the new puppy of the family. “Look over my baby now, okay?” Chanel tells the dog.
The two mothers hug. They are already discussing Dasani’s “four-week coordination plan.” Chanel is allowed to call Dasani once a week at a pre-specified time. No visits for a month. This is a separation designed to help enrolled students build new bonds, especially with their parents at home.
This can lead to emotional swells such as sadness, guilt, confusion, and anger. Some children rebel, hoping that their sins would send them home. However, the longer they can withstand this separation, the more likely they are to achieve the school’s goal of living a “fulfilling and productive” life.
The unspoken message is clear. To leave poverty, Dasani must also leave her family for at least some time.
Dasani is awake That first night. She has never slept alone. She keeps reaching for Lee Lee. “I don’t know how to sleep with anyone,” she tells me later. The sky is wide and dark outside, and the snow is almost silver. Hershey is so quiet that any sound is jarring — the buzz of branches, the beating of a truck.
Even the air feels different. A few feet away, Dasani’s 13-year-old roommate is sleeping soundly. She is also an urban girl. But she came from Trenton, NJ eight years ago. It’s long enough to learn how to sleep in a quiet place.
Homesickness is not the only thing that awakens Dasani. She feels the pressure Hershey represents. “I believe I can achieve my dreams at this school,” she wrote in her diary. She makes little mention of the 11 cohabitants. Because they may read the diary and turn their backs on her. Earlier, they warmly greeted Dasani at dinner and bowed for elegance. She ate quickly as if the food had disappeared. Freshmen are not accustomed to secondary assistance and side dishes. From time to time, they protect the dishes, hunt for each meal, store food in napkins, and try to distribute it.