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MPS shares success of growing aquaponics program at national education conference

South By Southwest When a national education conference sought presenters to discuss a successful and growing aquaponics program in a school setting it turned to Milwaukee Public Schools.

Matt Ray, a teacher at Fernwood Montessori School, was joined by Fernwood eighth grade student Kirby Cain, to discuss their work in aquaponics at the South by Southwest Education Conference in Austin, Texas on March 8. The conference provided opportunities to learn about other innovations happening in schools across the country.

Aquaponics programs have grown considerably in MPS since 2008, the year the National Education Association Foundation, with help from AT&T, began supporting MPS’ Urban Aquaponics initiative with grants. The program was developed to advance Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education among low-income and minority students and introduce students to a sustainable form of farming.

Expanding STEM education is part of MPS efforts to close the achievement gap, one of the district’s Eight Big Ideas to accelerate student achievement.

MPS received additional support in 2010 to expand aquaponics through a partnership with the Sweet Water Foundation (SWF), which has provided training to 15 MPS teachers on aquaponics design, construction, operation and maintenance. MPS continues to work with SWF with grant support from the NEA Foundation and AT&T.

For the 2015-16 school year, aquaponics systems were installed in The Alliance School of Milwaukee, Byron Kilbourn School, Casimir Pulaski High School, Ronald Wilson Reagan College Preparatory High School and Trowbridge School of Discovery and Technology.

SWF has worked with MPS to reestablish an aquaponics program at Barack Obama School of Career and Technical Education, and set up programs at Lynde and Harry Bradley Technology and Trade School and South Division High School. Other MPS schools with aquaponics programs include, Fernwood Montessori School, Harold S. Vincent High School and Hawley Environmental School.


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Milwaukee Public Schools is committed to accelerating student achievement, building positive relationships between youth and adults and cultivating leadership at all levels. The district’s commitment to improvement continues to show results:

  • More MPS students are taking college-level Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses;
  • The MPS Class of 2017 earned $62+ million in scholarships; and
  • MPS is home to seven of the state and nation’s top high schools according to U.S. News and World Report and the Washington Post.

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