A lesson on inequality in Petworth: Elementary schools in the D.C. neighborhood and income disparity
| By Samantha Hogan, Rashonda Dickens and James Johnson |
Elementary students in Petworth struggle to achieve with limited resources in the classroom and at home as the block-to-block the income of white residents has increased and the income of black families has fallen over the last two and a half decades.
Petworth, a neighborhood that runs against the border of Northeast D.C., is home to nine schools and over 2,000 school age children, according to 2010 U.S. Census data. A majority of students in Petworth’s elementary schools are economically disadvantaged.
Raymond Education Campus, a kindergarten through eighth grade school in Petworth, is not just a place to learn; it’s become a place of refuge for its students, said school social worker Tarianda Ruston.
“The kids are very resilient despite the challenges they face at home or lack [of] necessity,” Ruston said. “They really love coming to school.”
The school works in partnership with a program called “Neediest Kids.” If students do not have clothes, shoes or food, the school can provide those items, according to Ruston. Raymond faculty and staff have been able to provide gift cards to stores such as Target and Wal-Mart, and uniforms are given to students as needed, according to Ruston.
Raymond is the only school in the district to run on an extended-year schedule, according to Michelle Lerner, who is the press secretary of the Chancellor’s office for the District of Columbia Public School system. Forty-one other schools in the District run on extended days, she said by email.
“We believe that getting more critical instructional time will help our students from low-income backgrounds,” Lerner said by email.
Seventy percent of students at Raymond are recognized as economically disadvantaged under DCPS guidelines, Ruston said. DCPS allocates money to schools based on the percentage of “at-risk” students.
Students are “at risk” if they are:
- In foster care
- Receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
- Enrolled in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
All students at Raymond qualify for free lunch through the Hunger-Free Kids Act 2010 that permits a universal meal program through its Community Eligibility Option, which started in D.C. during the 2012-2013 academic year, according to Raymond’s Equality Report from the same year.
Tymeka Jenkins, an African American single mom, waited outside Raymond for her 6-year-old daughter Symone Caston to come out of her first grade classroom in late November. Jenkins and her daughter live adjacent to Petworth. She said she selected Raymond because of its proximity to their home.
Symone uses the meal program, but Jenkins still packs her a lunch as well, she said.
“I do still send her with her own lunch and sometimes she comes home with half of her lunch,” Jenkins said. “So that means she eats the school lunch, and if she is still hungry, then she can have her own lunch that she brought to school.”
Signs of unequal growth
At Raymond, 60 percent of students are Hispanic and 40 percent are African American, according to Ruston.
“I think there should a greater diversity, but this is a majority Hispanic area,” Jenkins said. “So, I’m assuming that’s why the school system is predominantly Hispanic.”
White and Asian students do not make up a significant portion of the school’s population. Two percent of the students identified as Asian and three percent identified as non-Hispanic whites in Raymond’s 2012-2013 Equality Report.
Absent white families in Petworth elementary schools shed light on the chasm that has formed between the household incomes of white versus black and Hispanic families in Petworth, and who has the greater ability to choose the type of education their child receives.
The median household income of Petworth was just over $42,000 during the 2010 U.S. Census, which is substantially lower than the district-wide median income of almost $66,000 between 2009 and 2013, according to the U.S. Census Bureau data.
Petworth is located in a majority black area. During the 2010 U.S. Census, 68 percent of D.C. residents in the area were black and 17 percent were white. Almost nine percent of the population identified as “Some Other Race,” and the Hispanic populations was not accounted for in the total population.
But, the split down economic lines is not even among all races in Petworth.
The median household income of white residents exploded block-by-block compared to black and Hispanic Petworth residents between the 2000 and 2010 U.S. Census.
On average, the median household income of white families in Petworth grew 93 percent between 2000 and 2010. African American families saw only 18 percent growth and Latino families saw less than one percent growth during the same time period.
Disparities in wealth were easily seen when the median household income was broken down by race over time.
2000 Median Household Incomes for White and Black Petworth Residents
All infographics by Samantha Hogan
White Median Income
Black and African American Median Income
In one block in 2010, the median income of whites rose to $155,344 and AfricanAmerican median income plummeted to $24,583. This block extends outside Petworth and may reflect a bigger shift in neighborhood wealth.
2010 Median Household Incomes for White and Black Petworth Residents
White Median Income
Black and African American Median Income
This trend is only found in two other areas around Washington, D.C. U.S. Census data shows that a cluster of blocks in Arlington, Virginia, and two blocks in Northwest D.C. saw similar sudden shifts in wealth for black families.
Unlike these two areas, the block in Petworth shows no sign of rebounding for black families.
Hispanic Petworth residents have not experienced the same income turmoil as black families, but their median household incomes, on average, throughout the neighborhood have been lower than black and white families since 2000.
What ‘need’ looks like
Several barriers block Raymond students from early success, including language barriers, lack of technology in the home and few resources to help guide students through their homework.
Language barriers, where the parents are not proficient in English, hinder some parents from helping children with their homework, according to Ruston. Many families also lack of technology in the home, which prevents some students from completing homework assignments, according to Ruston.
“I do wish they were able to help more with the homework,” Jenkins said. “I do wish that, but right now they don’t have the resources for it.”
“I feel like the homework is not compatible with just her doing it by herself,” she said. “She has to have help with doing the homework. I don’t know, I used to wonder if the homework was sent home for me to do with her, but a majority of her homework is always she needing someone to work with her.”
The need to assist Symone with homework puts a strain on Jenkins, she said.
Even families involved with local government struggle with the tough decisions about how to educate their children in Ward 4.
Taalib-Din Uqdah, a single-member district commissioner for Ward 4C, has been a resident of the Ward 4 for the last 31 years. Although he has been a commissioner of the D.C. Public Schools, he expresses his dissatisfaction for the Ward 4 area due to his personal experience as a student and with his two children.
“DCPS has a lot to improve on although I am a district commissioner, and it’s still very disappointing to a part of this ward.”
The school system as a whole “dramatically raised” its standards for achievement, and the results released on Oct. 27 were “sobering,” Lerner said by email. Only 27 percent of all DCPS students scored “college and career ready” in 10th grade English and 12 percent in geometry. Lerner said she was confident that the school system’s scores will increase as they have on other tests.
Uqdah’s son, who is currently 15 years old, attended D.C. Public Schools for fourth and five grades and his daughter, who has a disability, is currently in the care of the district.
Uqdah decided homeschooling his son would be the best option for an effective education, he said. The same decision is currently being made for his daughter.
Despite these odds, Ruston said families and parents are supportive.
Raymond attendance rate is 97.5 percent, which is higher than the District average of 93 percent, according to the Equality Report that accounts for D.C. charter school and DCPS attendance.
“We don’t have a problem with students not coming to class,” Ruston said. “We have strong family involvement and parent teacher conferences are packed.”
Note: The authors tried to account for the fact that block-groups surveyed by The U.S. Census Bureau do not reflect neighborhood lines perfectly. Some blocks extend outside Petworth, which may skew the income and distribution of some races.