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Browning School is honored in Washington, D.C., with a federal Green Ribbon Award

Browning honored in D.C. Browning Elementary School’s greenhouse, walking school bus, green playground, and other green efforts are getting noticed on a national level. The MPS school, at 5440 N. 64th St., received recognition at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., in August for its achievements.  

Representatives of Browning traveled to the nation’s capital to receive the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools award. Browning was one of only 26 schools in the country to receive the honor for its commitment to sustainable environmental practices. 

“The Browning school community has mobilized to bring underutilized spaces to life, brought in supportive partners with programming and resources, and built capacity for new systems and practices to live out a green dream,” the Department of Education noted in its highlights of the 2023 honorees, which were first announced in April. Browning has more than 250 students, from 4-year-old kindergarten to grade 5. 

The Browning-to-D.C. group included Principal Raymond C. Unanka, Browning Community School Coordinator Gianna Holschbach, and Browning School Parent Coordinator Latasha Holt. Browning received a sustainably crafted plaque at the event on August 8 in recognition of its achievements. 

Officials at the ceremony included U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Cindy Marten; Brenda Mallory, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality; Janet McCabe, Deputy Administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Henry McKoy, Director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of State and Community Energy Programs; and Maggie Thomas, Special Assistant to the President for Climate. 

The event took place in the Lyndon Baines Johnson Auditorium at the U.S. Department of Education. 

Some of the practices at Browning that won recognition for the school are: 

  • Participation in the Walking School Bus program. Students walk together to school with adult volunteers to practice pedestrian safety and to promote healthy habits. The program also improved attendance. “Those scholars were no longer late to school. They were on time,” Unanka said. And parents felt reassured when they were unable to accompany their children, he added. 

  • Revitalizing the school greenhouse and installing an aquaponics system, where fish provide nutrients for greenhouse plants. The greenhouse is part of school science lessons. Latasha Holt, Browning’s parent coordinator, said the parents she’s spoken to “were excited to know their children were attending a school where greenery mattered, where gardening mattered.” It felt like a counterpoint to society’s longtime emphasis on tech, she observed — children could dig their hands into soil.   

  • Installing a video system at the greenhouse so more students can learn. “Scholars who are unable to go to the greenhouse can see what’s happening” from their classrooms, Unanka said. Plants such as tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers are nurtured in the greenhouse and transferred outdoors to raised beds. A food pantry in the neighborhood center has received some of the school’s harvests, said Holschbach, the community school coordinator. 

  • Cultivating partners to teach students and staff how to sustain programming, provide access to wholesome food, and offer hands-on STEM learning. Students have learned about composting, solar dehydration of food, urban agriculture, and food justice. The greenhouse also became accessible to the wider community, and it became a means of ecotherapy, particularly after the remote learning early in the pandemic. 

  • Installation of water-bottle refilling stations and a stormwater vault under the old playground to address runoff to storm sewers. The vault holds up to 872,000 gallons of stormwater until it safely can be released for treatment. After the vault was installed, a 55,000-square-foot sports complex was built on top of it to replace the playground, with funding from Johnson Controls and the Milwaukee Bucks. Amenities include six basketball courts, a 200-meter track, a soccer field, and a futsal court. The complex also benefits the residents of adjacent Westlawn Gardens, which is a LEED silver-certified green housing development opened by the city in 2012 

  • Composting of landscape and garden waste, which provided another science lesson for students. 

  • Landscaping with native plants, a draw for pollinators. 

Unanka and others indicated that a key to Browning’s success has been its Milwaukee Community Schools Partnership.  

The partnership strives to help schools include the community in decision making. It also focuses on culturally responsive and restorative practices, and works with local businesses and organizations. MPS, the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, and the United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County started the partnership in 2015. 

The greenhouse’s renewal sprouted from a collaboration of Browning’s lead agency and neighbor, the Silver Spring Neighborhood Center; the Milwaukee School of Engineering; Johnson Controls, a global company that has a campus just 3 miles from Browning; and SHARP Literacy, the nonprofit program focused on hands-on and STEAM learning (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics).  

The Education Department bases its Green Ribbon Schools award on several factors, which it calls the Three Pillars: 

  • Reduced environmental impact and utility costs 

  • Efforts to improve health and wellness 

  • Effective education about environmental sustainability 

The complete list of the Education Department award winners is at the department’s website

© Milwaukee Public Schools 2023
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