By Harriet Sanford
President and CEO
The NEA Foundation
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 below.