From the Press of Atlantic City, we find this story that examines the school districts in the New Jersey area. Writer Diane D’Amico begins her story by introducing us to an area school principal.
Gladys Lauriello didn’t realize her family was poor when she went to school in Wildwood. But now, as Lauriello works as principal in the same building where she attended class, she recognizes the signs of poverty that characterized her youth.
She wasn’t surprised to learn that U.S. Census Bureau data released Wednesday show that 36 percent of school-age children in Wildwood live in poverty. That’s the highest percentage among school districts in New Jersey.
“It’s probably a low estimate, frankly,” said Lauriello, the Wildwood High School principal.
New Jersey annually ranks at or near the top among the states in household income. But it has some of the poorest school districts in the country, according to The Press of Atlantic City analysis of the census poverty data. And area school districts, including Atlantic City, Pleasantville, Vineland and Bridgeton, number among the nation’s worst in terms of percent or number of children age 5 to 17 living in poverty.
The percentage of impoverished children increased in 70 percent of area school districts from 2007 to 2008. The number of children in poverty grew by 9 percent in Atlantic and Cape May counties and by 16 percent in Ocean County. The number in poverty increased by 5 percent statewide. The percentage of impoverished schoolchildren increased in two-thirds of districts statewide last year, although a number of them grew by less than a percentage point.
In terms of the percentage of children in poverty, Atlantic City and Bridgeton rank among the worst 10 percent of districts in the nation and Wildwood is in the worst 3 percent. Thirty-two New Jersey districts rank among the 10 percent nationwide with the highest number of impoverished children. Those include Bridgeton, Millville and Pleasantville from this area. Atlantic City and Vineland rank in the worst 5 percent.