The beloved T.A. Brown Elementary School in Austin ISD, Texas, was originally built in 1957. In 2016, the school building was closed after it was deemed unsafe for faculty and students. The building was demolished one year later. The community was devastated that their school was closed and they fought to make sure that the school would be reopened. Fast forward to January 2020, and more than 500 K–5th graders walked into a brand new building that was designed with student learning and outdoor learning as the central focus.
This school is more than just a building, it has also been a cultural center for the community it sits in. School and district administrators used the rebuild as a unique opportunity to re-think the learning experience of the students and the community they serve. With ambitious and forward-thinking work, Principal Veronica Sharp, Vice Principal Yolanda Lopez, and Austin ISD administrators worked with architects and the community to create a vision for the “first Green School Rooted in STEAM and Outdoor Learning” in Austin ISD with the intent of it becoming a model campus for the district’s future modernization projects.
The new T. A. Brown campus was designed and built with goals of a LEED Silver rating in mind. This modernized campus has innovative indoor and outdoor features, such as a nature loop trail, nature play, dry creek bed, a learning pond, water cisterns, condensate water reuse, daylighting and more, that encourage collaboration and project-based learning in flexible education environments. Every space, including the hallways and open areas, can be used for learning. Students will even continue their learning in the cafeteria, which is designed and equipped for zero-waste lunches. Administrators collaborated with local and national organizations to create an action plan to make sure that teachers, students, parents, and the community would be able to seamlessly transition to the new campus and mission.
T.A. Brown joined the Green Schools National Network (GSNN) as a Catalyst School and GSNN was a major resource for the district as they were creating their action plan. As part of a professional learning opportunity for Catalyst Schools, GSNN shared best practices that other green schools and districts were utilizing; ensured that outdoor learning, school culture, and social and emotional learning were instilled in the new pedagogy; and engaged faculty, staff, and students in whole-school sustainability initiatives.
To set the stage for teachers to utilize the new campus building and features as teaching tools that connect students to authentic learning experiences that integrate sustainability education into 21st-century learning, the district turned to EcoRise. EcoRise began working with T. A. Brown administration and teachers while they were still housed in portables in 2018. They provided training that integrated sustainability curricula into the classrooms and also prepared teachers to facilitate outdoor learning lessons and connect their future modernized space to classroom instruction. Now that the school has re-opened, EcoRise will continue to play an integral role in training and supporting teachers to utilize the building to maximize STEAM integration and hands-on student learning.
T. A. Brown’s dedication to sustainability education is helping students understand the impact of their built environments, prepare for the future, and become leaders and change-makers within their community. Upholding this vision throughout the modernization project of T. A. Brown Elementary provided an opportunity for transformation, physically, academically, and culturally.
Learn more about this transformation at our session, Making Lemonade: The Transformation of T.A. Brown Elementary, on Tuesday, March 3rd, 2020, at 11am in the Galleria South room at the Green Schools Conference & Expo.
Click below to register.