kids in the outdoor classroom image

Brown Street Academy Schoolyard helps the community connect with nature.

Center for Resilient Cities marshals resources for urban schoolyard greening and outdoor education.

Center for Resilient Cities led community efforts to transform Brown Street Academy’s schoolyard from a slab of cracked asphalt into green space designed for outdoor education and connection with nature. More than half of the four-acre schoolyard was converted into green and living surfaces, while still providing space for basketball, hopscotch, foursquare and kickball. Today the schoolyard is full of life, featuring more than 50 trees, lush blankets of grass and flowers and a Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom™ that offers students an exciting venue for nature-based education.

Developed in response to the growing disconnect between children and nature, the Outdoor Classroom uses research-based principles to integrate nature into daily learning. Interactive stations made from natural materials encourage scientific experimentation, math and literacy skills development, staged performances and visual art production. Students can work with natural materials, climb on natural structures, and practice their balance, agility, and creativity in areas designed for music and movement.

Today the schoolyard’s green space is essential to education, recreation and community engagement in the Johnsons Park neighborhood. Enjoyed by Brown Street Academy students during the school day, it is also used by the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Milwaukee Community Learning Center for after-school activities, and is open to the community for recreation in off-school hours.

Project Facts

  • Nearly 3 acres of asphalt were converted into green and living surfaces. Benches and boulders add to the green space aesthetics and functionality.
  • To create shade, 22 shade trees were planted in a corner grove and along the schoolyard’s perimeter, doubling the number of trees in the yard. The shaded reading nook is an inviting space for students to immerse themselves in a favorite book.
  • A Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom™ was built onsite, featuring areas for music and performance, building, climbing and nature art.
  • Storm water runoff was drastically reduced. With its living surfaces, there is virtually no storm water runoff in the Outdoor Classroom space.

Moving Forward

In 2010, Brown Street Academy became the first certified Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom in Wisconsin, earning this national designation from the Arbor Day Foundation and Dimensions Educational Research Foundation. In 2012, the Academy hosted the City of Milwaukee’s Arbor Day, showcasing urban nature and outdoor education in its schoolyard. View images from this event.