Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Poverty, population, and the ASD

I spend a lot of time talking to moms (and dads) on the playground at my son's school. One thing I love about Muhlenberg Elementary in west Allentown is that most kids walk to school, or are driven by parents, so kids and parents can stay on the playground after school and socialize. It is a true community school. Some days we are there till almost dinner time, unless we have a piano lesson or other activity to attend. We don't have much of a yard, so I am glad my son can run around like a nut for a while, play some ball, or climb on the equipment. Saves some wear and tear on our furniture and walls, plus, kids need exercise.

I don't know the exact numbers, but according to a high ranking PTA official, this year Muhlenberg has over 100 new students. The art teacher has lost her classroom and must go room to room with a cart. (I know what that's like since I did it for many years when I taught art in the ASD). Muhlenberg has two portable classrooms. A teacher has told me that they need more ESL teachers. (English as a second language) The majority of kids in my son's class are Hispanic. I don't know how many need ESL.
If you go to the ASD's website and read the section of the comprehensive plan called "population trends" http://www.allentownsd.org/Facilities/PDF/5_Population.pdf the data does not show a current notable increase in population. This does not make sense. Here is an interesting statistic from the plan. "Between 1990-2000 the general population only grew 1.5%, housing modestly grew 0.7%, but public school enrollments increased 21.5%. " Okay, so we have an increase in students, but not much of an increase in general population or housing. What is going on, and how is the ASD addressing this? How is the city addressing it?

Over at the informative Mapping Allentown blog, Squirrel provides maps, charts, and data regarding the population in Allentown. It's interesting to look at the map that shows the percentage of kids receiving free or reduced lunch in the ASD. And this data is from a few years ago. Seems like most families qualify for free or reduced lunch. If you compare Allentown with it's surrounding districts, it is quite shocking. Allentown looks like the poverty epicenter of the area.

In 2000, the poverty rate in the 18101 zip code was 40.2%. In the 18104 zip code only 5.9%. This huge gap between center city and the west end makes it appear like Allentown is divided into two cities, the haves and the have nots. See this chart:
DataPlace Beta: Data Profile for 18104, 18103, 18102 and 18101 (thanks to Squirrel) I am interested in knowing what the center city poverty rate is for 2008. I am sure it is much higher now.

The district is building a new elementary school, so maybe that will alleviate some of the over crowding, and the middle schools are being renovated and expanded to accomodate some of this growth, but I think something must be done about low income housing in Allentown. Row houses should not be allowed to be converted into several apartments.
Poverty and increased student enrollment seem to be the big issues for the ASD and for the city, so what is being done about it? Are city officials and the ASD working together on addressing these important issues?
If you have a child in the ASD I would recommend being an advocate for your child, ask questions, and get involved as a volunteer. Kids come first.