The further greening of Milwaukee schoolyards

The idea that every child – at every school – in Milwaukee deserves green space is one to which I subscribe. I’ve been a cheerleader for projects at Brown Street School, Fernwood and Maryland Avenue Montessori, 81st Street School and others.

Today, Tippecanoe-Dover parent Erin Dentice shared plans for greening some of the space at that Bay View school’s playground. (Next year the campus’ two programs will be officially merged under the name Milwaukee Parkside School for the Arts, in reference to the school’s location across from Humboldt Park.)

Dentice had a vague plan to green the sea of asphalt that rages behind the unassuming modernist facade of the former Fritsche Middle School on Howell Avenue, just north of Oklahoma Avenue.

When she approached a nearby Home Depot with the idea to collaborate, she learned the store was already working with the district to get a new tot lot up and running at the school. That work is already underway (and so is work on installing a new playset at Wisconsin Conservatory of Lifelong Learning (WCLL), in the former Sarah Scott Middle School on 12th and Vliet Streets. That’s another schoolyard that could use some green space).

With the support of the store and the school’s principal, Jeff Krupar – who will retire next month – Dentice brought in a landscape designer to draw up plans to encircle the tot lot with green space.

Krupar also asked that Dentice consider adding some wow factor to the long, narrow front lawn.

Now, there are plans to add raised beds out front, which teachers can use to help kids learn about gardening and nature, and a portion of the planned green space out back appears set to become a reality in late June. How much will be accomplished immediately depends on the financial support Dentice can muster.

But even if it’s just a piece, that start can help lead to the completion – and, hopefully, further expansion of the plan later on. That, she says, will help meet the project’s objectives:

  • Ensure landscapes support safe outdoor learning in tandem with all aspects of education including socialization tools for school-aged children.
  • Develop a greater sense of pride for those attending and working at the school, vested interest in the general environment and a source of inspiration for art-related activities.
  • Make changes in our surroundings so they will be more beautiful, useful, convenient, functional, ecologically sound and easily maintained.
  • Create an aesthetically pleasing focal point for the community that stimulates interest in the school through curb appeal.

Dentice promises to keep us updated on progress, so when we have photos of the first phase, I will share them here.

Meanwhile, on Dentice’s tip, I went to see John Greenleaf Whittier School, almost as far south at the airport. Whittier is an example of a school that is basically already surrounded by a park.

The colorful flowers adorning the front of the school are just the start. Sure, there’s an asphalt play area, but there is also ample open green space and the school’s playset is located in an adjacent wooded area.

What Whittier has may not be a utopian playground, but it’s something most schools in the city can only dream of. Let’s make it a reality for every Milwaukee school.

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