The Missing Ingredient in Science Education

Communities play a key role in helping STEM projects like urban farming take root.

Less than a decade ago, even the principal of Trowbridge Street Elementary School in Milwaukee saw no reason why parents would want to send their kids there.

The school was in physical disrepair. Some rooms hadn’t been painted in 30 years. With a dwindling student population, Trowbridge no longer offered art or PE. The school, which was founded in 1894 and includes Hollywood actor Spencer Tracy among its alumni, was on the verge of closing.

Instead, Principal Thomas Matthews took inspiration from Lake Michigan, just blocks away. A lifeline for the surrounding Bay View community, the lake became the school’s central focus as it was rebuilt around the study of ecology, freshwater sciences, and the Great Lakes. Today known as the Trowbridge School of Discovery and Technology, the school is near capacity. The STEM-inspired shift has “given the school new life,” Matthews says.

But Trowbridge’s teachers didn’t make this change alone. They reached out to the community for help, including local businesses, colleges, the Coast Guard, and Milwaukee’s growing urban farming industry, which has helped transform schools across the city by creating opportunities to learn science through creating, tending, and cultivating in-school aquaponics systems, as shown in this video.

The district also played an important role. By partnering with the community and providing needed resources to schools across the district, Milwaukee Public Schools is growing and sustaining these programs, nurturing a love of science in many more students and increasing the lifespan of the program.

I’ve written before about the impact these kinds of project-based programs can have on students, and how they imbue needed science skills with the meaning students need to make them part of their lives. But through our work —> Read More