AT&T, NEA donate $98,000 to MPS aquaponics program

MILWAUKEE (WITI) — AT&T and the NEA Foundation are teaming up to increase low-income students’ interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education by supporting Milwaukee Public Schools’ Urban Schools Aquaponics initiative through a two-year contribution that  includes $98,000 that will directly impact the program.

The goal: provide more students with the skills and knowledge they’ll need for 21st century jobs and develop curriculum and instructional content that educators can use to build similar programs nationwide.

“Projects like these empower educators to develop and use proven practices to deliver rigorous, engaging learning experiences that we know excite and interest underrepresented student groups in STEM,” said Harriet Sanford, president and CEO of the NEA Foundation.

“In order to keep our country’s economic growth and innovation engine moving, it’s critical that we develop STEM skills in our young people,” said Scott T. VanderSanden, president of AT&T Wisconsin.  “Programs like this one with the NEA Foundation ignite the interest of the next generation in the STEM skills they’ll need to succeed through exciting, real-world applications.”

MPS’ Urban Schools Aquaponics (USA) initiative was selected because of its early success in advancing STEM education among low-income and minority students. The contribution will support the expansion of the program to five new schools, reaching a total of 1,500 MPS students over two years.

It will also support the development of a cohesive, comprehensive aquaponics curriculum aligned with the newly released math and science standards that will be piloted in the participating schools. Ultimately, aquaponics coursework would be available in all MPS high schools and it would be a component of science coursework in all MPS K-8 schools, with the potential to reach all 78,500 students in the district.

“Aquaponics is a strong part of our STEM education efforts and we’re grateful and proud to be able to strengthen and grow that program,” said MPS Superintendent Gregory Thornton.  “This program gives students hands-on STEM experience, and exposes them to career options in a new and growing field.”

Aquaponics is a highly efficient and sustainable form of farming in which water from aquatic animals is used to feed hydroponically grown plants. The plants filter the water, which is then re-circulated back to the fish. Aquaponics programs enable students to use and explore science, math and engineering principles in a variety of ways as they gain valuable 21st century skills and knowledge.

“Through its Aquaponics program, MPS is providing our young people with the STEM education they need to be prepared for careers in the 21st Century,” said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.  “We are excited this innovative program is expanding to reach even more students thanks to this public-private partnership.”

Over the last three years, MPS’ Urban Schools Aquaponics initiative has been integrated into nine new schools, thanks in part to support from the NEA Foundation and the AT&T Foundation.  This new contribution will support five new schools, for a total of 18 Milwaukee public schools.

Research indicates that underperformance in STEM education arises from a variety of complex issues: teachers with little professional support; inadequate alignment of standards and curriculum; and insufficient understanding of the relevance to students’ lives about the need to achieve in these subjects. This project will focus on providing more personal, engaging, coordinated, and consistent STEM learning.

MPS’ Aquaponics initiative is one of two contributions awarded nationally as part of a $300,000 total contribution that will also support the development of case studies and evaluation of the two programs from fall 2013 through fall 2015.  Project EATS, a program of the Active Citizens Project, in New York City, NY, was also selected.

Formative and summative evaluation will be employed throughout the funding period to assess progress in both cities, to identify areas for improvement, gather evidence of success, and enable future replication in schools across the country, with the goal of increasing high school students’ engagement, interest, and excellence in STEM.