Dasani was the “…spunky 11-year old with big dreams and no home.” After a NY Times reporter met her in a New York City homeless shelter, Dasani became famous through a series of articles that described her life. Now, nine years later, she is not quite where people expected her to be.
The Story of A Homeless Child
On January 26 2015, Dasani started the Milton Hershey School. Tuition-free, the school requires its students to separate themselves from their families. It wants them to detach from the poverty in their past so they can create a new life. At the school, with its $17 billion endowment, she lived in a house with 8 to 12 other children and a married couple that act as surrogate parents. For its 2,100 (or so) students, the school pays for tutors, braces, dentistry. It provides clothing, food, swimming, and driving instruction. The graduates that qualify can get college scholarships.
This a one of more than 180 student houses:
When she went to Hershey, Dasani left seven siblings behind, ranging from 2 to 12 years old. Mornings, she prepared breakfast for everyone and sent them off to school. But even more crucially, she believed she held them together. From dance battles to music blasting at midnight, they had fun. Their parents wanted to create strong family bonds. But her mom had addiction problems and the city winds up sending the children to foster homes.
At Hershey, Dasani’s life was a mixture of high and low grades, of acclimating and rebelling. She was a cheerleader, ran track, received therapy. Ultimately though she was asked to leave because of violent episodes against other students.
Our Bottom Line: Tradeoffs
The tradeoff for Dasani’s education was a family that she loved. As the oldest child, she was a surrogate parent that gave the caregiving her siblings needed. Then, at Hershey, asked to speak and eat differently, participating in a disciplined structure, much of what she learned required sacrificing the culture she had grown up with.
Dasani’s story takes us to the very real people that proposals for free community college (and other entitlement programs) are targeting. Knowing Dasani’s dilemmas lets us see the tradeoffs that the vast array of government support can require and why it’s about so much more than giving someone an education that they complete.
The NY Times tale of Dasani, though, did end with college. After returning to New York, entering foster care, joining a gang, and having encounters with the police, she graduated from high school. She is currently a student at LaGuardia Community College. A business administration major, she hopes to attend a four-year university.
My sources and more: Yesterday, after hearing an interview of the NY Times reporter who followed Dasani, I wanted to learn more about this homeless child. My first stop was a David Leonhardt column.and then this article.