Environmental Charter School Aims to Revitalize Community

For Madison middle school students who live south of the Beltline, going to school means riding the bus across town to Sennett Middle School for up to an hour each day.

Proponents of Badger Rock Middle School, a new Madison public charter school scheduled to open in the fall, believe a school within the Rimrock-Southdale neighborhood could change this reality.

For Sara Alvarado, a member of the Badger Rock Middle School neighborhood advisory committee, the issue of students being bused to schools outside their neighborhood never seemed like a big deal before she had children.

But now, as a mother of two and a resident of Rimrock, the issue of school proximity has become much more important.

“Parents in the neighborhood want to be able to walk their children to school instead of putting them on a bus across town,” Alvarado said.

But the vision behind Badger Rock is broader than just the question of the commute. Sponsors such as the Center for Resilient Cities want Badger Rock to be a model for environmental and cultural sustainability, with an on-site garden, café, community center and sustainable energy projects.

The building will also house an MG&E Energy Services Center, which advocates call a “learning laboratory”. The site will have demonstrations for students and community members on how green energy works and how it is used at the school.

Moreover, given its position on the corner of Badger and Rimrock roads, the school is located conveniently close to Indian Springs Park and Lake Monona, where school organizers hope students will gain invaluable hands-on environmental education experiences.

For a neighborhood that has no grocery store, church or central gathering place outside of Badger Bowl bowling alley, school organizers and community members hope the school will not just provide jobs, but also serve as a community center.

Cora White, another member of the advisory committee and Rimrock resident for over 35 years, hopes that the Badger Rock campus will also help revive the neighborhood association and offer new services, such as a community newsletter, cooking classes with guest chefs, and workshops that are of interest to all residents.

The school will also offer evening and summer classes for adults, said Jamie Domini, project coordinator for Badger Rock.

The school also plans to reach out to the community at large, partnering with institutions like the University of Wisconsin-Madison. UW students will engage with Badger Rock through volunteering, workshops, seminars and mentoring students.

Given Badger Rock’s emphasis on community and environmental engagement, it is hardly surprising that although Alvarado’s fourth grade son attends Nuestro Mundo, a dual language immersion charter elementary school, she still plans to enroll him Badger Rock in 2012.

The draw at Badger Rock is greater than Sennett Middle School even though the new school does not have an established language program, Alvarado said. She expects Badger Rock’s popularity will grow even after the school reaches its intended capacity of 150 students.

“I’ve got a lot of high expectations that we’ll have a waiting list within the first couple of years because parents are looking for innovative ways to educate their children,” Alvarado said.