At a recent holiday Mass in South-Central Los Angeles, Ida Coleman stood during prayers of the faithful.
"I hope the Lord will bless Chaumanix Dutton while she's away from us," Coleman said as Christmas lights blinked in the 68-year-old Nativity Church. "And that there are those who will extend themselves to her and that she will not be lonely."
Another worshiper prayed "for students who inspire us and who teach us." Others simply hugged Chaumanix.
The ninth grader had just returned from her first three months at Berkshire School, a private prep academy on 500 acres of rolling hills in the corner of western Massachusetts. She received a $21,000-a-year scholarship to attend.
As Chaumanix and her mother, Sophia Berkley, were leaving the church after the service, parishioner Marilyn Everett asked how the 14-year-old was doing.
"Is she a straight-A student?"
"Yes," Berkley said.
"All right!" Everett hugged Chaumanix tightly. "I'm so happy and pleased. God bless you."
Last summer, 75 family members, friends, parishioners and former teachers sent Chaumanix off to Massachusetts with a party in the parish auditorium. Home at Thanksgiving, she was treated as a celebrity as she visited local campuses for three days to tell junior high students and teachers about her opportunity.
Chaumanix flew back to campus Monday with a 4.0 average in classes including biology, English, Spanish, advanced geometry and ancient history. All those good wishes seem to have been realized.
"She is an inspiration," says Paul Scibetta, a school vice principal who arranged her scholarship. "The kids look at this minority student who was once part of their group and see that you can basically survive in this world and reach heights that were not even part of their reality."
Educators at Berkshire, where Chaumanix arrived last fall at age 13, hail her as bright, efficient and enthusiastic.
"She's a great kid," says Melissa Livsey, head of the dormitory where Chaumanix lives. "She's always in a good mood and seems very grateful she's here. She's pretty efficient with her time. I think she works very quickly.
"She's a very mature kid. I never would have guessed that she was only 13 when she arrived. She's not one that needs to please everyone and go along with the crowd."
Chaumanix says she likes "the people at the school, because they're outgoing and try to help you, and the environment, because it's very beautiful." The scenic campus was founded in 1907 on a former farm four miles south of Sheffield. A 2,200-foot mountain overlooks the school and deer frequently congregate nearby.
Chaumanix says she is also comfortable in a student body that's only about 5% African American because she studied in similar situations in Los Angeles magnet programs.
Nevertheless some things required getting used to when she ventured 3,000 miles from home.
The day she arrived on campus with her mother, she heard a noise.
"What's that?" Chaumanix asked.
"The wind in the trees," Berkley replied.
Chaumanix was accustomed to strong winds being stirred by helicopters, she says.
She found she doesn't like the cold, windy snowfall and that the cold, fresh air irritates her nose. She discovered thermal underwear and acquired lots of warm socks.
And she worried about extra expenses. During her first few months at school Chaumanix called home regularly. But after seeing her mother's phone bill in at Thanksgiving, Chaumanix returned to school and didn't call for a week.
"I was going crazy," said Berkley, who is raising Chaumanix and two sons, 12 and 9, on her salary as an administrative assistant at a child-care agency. "I called everywhere for her. When I reached her, I asked was she not calling because of the phone bill. She said was trying to help save money. I said don't ever do that. You have to call. You're supposed to call. You can call and talk as long as you want."
Chaumanix's closeness to her family was one reason she wasn't interested in the scholarship when she heard about it last year as an eighth grader at Belvedere Junior High in East Los Angeles.
"My main concern was homesickness," Chaumanix says. "My mom and I are really close. I don't tell her everything, but I do tell her a lot. And I hadn't been away from home. I thought it might be too hard.
"Then I decided it might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Once I got accepted, I was just excited about going."
Her mother went through a similar debate about Chaumanix leaving.
"The serious factors included that she would be 3,000 miles away and that I would miss out on a lot," Berkley said. "I'd miss her first date. Her first love. Her first rejection or failure, maybe.
"All of the teen years I would not be able to be there and read her every day and see what need was there that the maternal part of me could help. I would lose my ability to protect her daily situation.