Poverty disproportionately affects people of color in Brookline. According to “Understanding Brookline, A Report on Poverty”, the poverty rate for Latino residents in Brookline is the highest, at 19%, followed by multi-race residents at 15%, Asian residents at 13.5% and Black residents at 13%. White residents have a poverty rate of 11.6%.
55% of STS students are on Individual Education Plans and receive some sort of support or accommodation for special learning needs, compared to only 15% of the district’s students as a whole. In addition, 84% of STS’s college students are first in their family to go to college, and thus, the highest education level in those households is a high school diploma. Finally, 77% of our students live in households led by single women.
In terms of income, an average of 9% of all students in the district are considered by the state to be economically disadvantaged (i.e. are eligible to be on some form of public assistance such as free or reduced lunch). 76% of STS students either currently live in public housing or are homeless. Put another way, nearly 1 out of 10 students in Brookline public schools is eligible for public assistance and nearly all of STS students are eligible.
85% of STS students live in Brookline’s public and/or subsidized housing, in one of the 900 units of Brookline Housing Authority (BHA) or 880 units of affordable, subsidized housing in the Town. Given the strong reputation of the public schools of Brookline, getting one of these affordable family units requires being on a long waiting list. For many families, getting off the waiting list is like winning the education lottery. BHA admissions preferences are based largely on extreme needs including imminent eviction, condemned housing, displacement due to disasters, and fleeing domestic violence. Thus, the majority of STS’s students have experienced one or more of these traumatic events as a child.
The typical BHA household is Extremely Low Income, defined by HUD as less than 30% of Area Median Income (AMI). Thirty percent of Greater Boston AMI ranges from $23,800 for a one-person household to $36,750 for a five-person household. In Brookline’s public housing, the real income for a family has decreased in the last five years, and the average household income in 2019 was $19,104. Thus, when a high school STS student earns $2300 during a summer internship, it could translate into 12% of household income. Or a $500 stipend from a Summer Connections placement could pay for that middle-schooler’s back to school supplies and clothing for the entire year.
According to Understanding Brookline, the cost of living in Norfolk County (including Brookline), requires a minimum required income of $76,152 for a family of four, which is 4.5 times the average real income for a family in the BHA. A poor student of color who lives in Brookline public housing has a particularly acute experience of income inequality. While many of their peers in school may be going on vacations over winter break, attending expensive enrichment programs after school, and participating in private summer camps, our students are often home during breaks and depend on organizations like the Brookline Food Pantry’s Brookline Thrives program, which provides weekend meal packs for students who live in poverty.
Since our students reside in Brookline, they must contend with the dual pressures of living in poverty while living in a community that sometimes does not understand their life experience or even realize it exists.