According to the latest numbers, the student population of Powel School is approximately 89% African American, 7% white, and 4% Latino, Asian, or other. Most of the children come from a section of the city called Mantua, which isn’t actually the neighborhood where the school sits, but is within very close walking distance. Powelton, the neighborhood in which we are actually located, has over the years become more and more a place where students and older families live. I saw a statistic recently that there are only something like 17 school aged students living in the neighborhood (and that includes children from K-12).
I’m sure it’s true to some extent in any city, and it is particularly true in Philadelphia, that unofficial boundary lines between neighborhoods are very pronounced. Mantua, though just blocks away from Powelton, is, socio-economically speaking, worlds away. From time to time, we encounter some difficulty with the Powelton neighbors around some project or another that we have planned. For example, a couple years ago we got some money from the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program to do a mural on the outside of the building, but the neighbors objected to this plan in part because they associated murals created through this program with more down-and-out neighborhoods. So we ended up creating the mural inside, in one of our stairwells.
Powel is also a school into which a number of students bus. We are officially recognized as a desegregated school (though we have become progressively less racially diverse over the years—attributable to the creation of a new school nearby supported by the University of Pennsylvania), because families from outside our catchment are able to apply for admission. We are one of very few schools in the School District of Philadelphia with a predominantly African-American student population that functions as a desegregated school. Nearly every other desegregated school in the city is one with a predominantly white student population that accepts non-white children from outside the neighborhood.