Student Well-Being Photos

War on Poverty: Education Provides Hope to Public Housing Residents

By Education Week Photo Staff — March 26, 2014 1 min read

“Home should be a paradise…. I’ve always told my kids, I’m like, ‘You should decorate your home like it’s your paradise. However you want it to feel that makes you comfortable. That’s what you have to yourself.’ And I believe that we all need that, because once you go out those doors, you’ve got to face the world and the world can be cruel.” —Kourtney Mills, Potomac Gardens resident

It’s been 50 years since President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a War on Poverty in his State of the Union address, initiating a variety of government programs in an effort to give every American a “fair chance.”

Public housing and rental vouchers were the results of one of these programs, and have given some families and their children a certain level of stability. But as reporter Evie Blad wrote in a newly published article examining these programs, “too many families who qualify for help won’t get it, housing-policy experts say, and children in assisted families still often live in areas of concentrated poverty, which can have negative effects on their education.”

We set out to connect with families living in public housing in the District of Columbia, and talk to them about their own education and that of their children. Potomac Gardens, home to Kourtney Mills and her four children, is a public housing complex in Washington’s Capitol Hill neighborhood that was built a year after President Johnson declared the War on Poverty.

Dashawn Smith, 6, left, looks over at his friend Malachi Davis, 10, as he hangs off of a fence outside of their apartment building while waiting for a bus to an after-care program. District of Columbia officials erected a prison-grade iron fence around the Potomac Gardens public housing complex in the early 1990s to keep out drug dealers and other criminals. At the time, the fence stirred an emotional reaction from residents, who said it made them feel further separated from the surrounding neighborhood.
John Hewitt, 19, plays with his cousin Donyae Vaughan, 7, at Potomac Gardens on a March afternoon. Hewitt was home on spring break from Edward Waters College in Jacksonville, Fla. While older public housing complexes, like Potomac Gardens, have fallen out of favor with many city housing agencies around the country, residents say they have built a sense of community and support with their neighbors.
Charlene Burwell, a resident and maintenance worker at Potomac Gardens, tends to the trash outside of the building. The complex has been known to some city residents as the site of violence over the years, but that doesn’t bother Burwell. “I don’t live out here,” she said. “I live in there,” she added, gesturing toward her apartment.
Kourtney Mills peers out from the kitchen to check on her children Emily Bakker, 20 months, left, Blake Bakker, 11 months, center, and Nathan Mills, 8, right, while eating her breakfast. Mills says living in public housing has provided stability for her children, allowing them to take the same walk to school every morning and return to the same bed every night.
Kourtney Mills changes her daughter’s diaper. The Mills family was on a waiting list for five years before an apartment opened up for her family at Potomac Gardens. Many people who qualify for subsidized housing or rental assistance don’t receive it, and, in many cities, families wait longer than Mills did.
Troy Bakker, Mills’ boyfriend, spends time with their son Blake Bakker, 11 months, as he works on his laptop.
Mills, mother of 4, studies for a test Thursday one morning before taking her children to daycare. Mills dropped out of high school in the 9th grade. She later finished her GED and returned to college. Mills broke into tears when she remembered the day a worker in a community program told her that she is smart and that she should pursue a degree.
Residents walk in between buildings at Potomac Gardens. Workers started construction on the complex the year President Johnson declared a War on Poverty. In the 50 years since, housing programs throughout the country have changed their approach, scattering low-income developments throughout communities instead of clustering them in concentrated areas.
Mills and Bakker walk to the bus stop to take their children Emily and Blake to daycare.
Children play outside Potomac Gardens. A program called Little Lights Urban Ministries works with children in the housing development, providing tutoring, mentoring, and after-school support. Several residents also volunteer with the program, which is an example of community supports that have developed around traditional public housing complexes.
The sun sets over Potomac Gardens, which has 352 apartments. The District of Columbia housing authority has 56 public housing properties throughout the city, a total of 8,000 apartment and townhouse units.

Related Tags:

A version of this article first appeared in the Full Frame blog.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Equity, Care and Connection: New SEL Tools and Practices to Support Students and Adults
As school districts plan to welcome students back into buildings for the upcoming school year, this is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and our systems to build a
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Classroom Technology Webinar
Here to Stay – Pandemic Lessons for EdTech in Future Development
What technology is needed in a post pandemic district? Learn how changes in education will impact development of new technologies.
Content provided by AWS
School & District Management Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Strategies & Tips for Complex Decision-Making
Schools are working through the most disruptive period in the history of modern education, facing a pandemic, economic problems, social justice issues, and rapid technological change all at once. But even after the pandemic ends,

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Student Well-Being Opinion Where Does Social-Emotional Learning Go Next?
Teachers, students, and parents all want more social-emotional and service learning in schools. The pandemic has only heightened that need.
John M. Bridgeland & Francie Richards
4 min read
Friendly group of people stand and support each other.
IULIIA/iStock/Getty Images Plus
Student Well-Being What the Research Says Masks, Tracking, Desk Shields: How Much Do School Measures Reduce Families' COVID-19 Risk?
A new study pinpoints the most effective mitigation measures and suggests that the more of them schools use, the better.
5 min read
Jennifer Becker, right, Science Teacher at the Sinaloa Middle School, talks to one of her students in Novato, Calif. on March 2, 2021.
Jennifer Becker, right, a teacher at Sinaloa Middle School, wears a mask to stem the spread of coronavirus as she talks with a student earlier this year in Novato, Calif.
Haven Daily/AP
Student Well-Being Opinion The One Thing Teachers Do That Hurts Student Motivation
When adults take over on a challenging task, kids are more likely to quit sooner on the next one. Here’s what to do instead.
Julia Leonard
1 min read
Images shows a stylized artistic landscape with soothing colors.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Whitepaper
The Complete Guide to SEL
This guide illustrates why SEL is more important now and what you should look for when implementing a social-emotional curriculum.
Content provided by Navigate360