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New Growth in the Menomonee Valley

Written by Glenna Holstein
    Wednesday, 31 August 2016
New Growth in the Menomonee Valley

A few weeks ago, I was pulling together some attendance numbers for a report. I sent them over to Jen Hense, our Director of Development, and she sent me back an email that said, "Safe to assume all of these numbers were 'zero' four years ago, huh? :-)" She's right – 4 years ago there literally were zero kids playing in Three Bridges Park because there WAS NO Three Bridges Park!

It's easy to get lost in number crunching, and her email reminded me of how incredible it is to get to do the work we do in the Menomonee Valley. In just this last year we had thousands of kiddos come through from our programming alone. (About 12,500 kids, to be exact. Plus plenty of kids and adults have found their way there outside of our programs, too!)


Please consider a gift to support this important work. With your help, we can continue to bring so much life to our community.


As you may know, we work with a large number of those students through our Neighborhood Environmental Education Project (NEEP), our field trip program for schools. Through this program, we partner with schools that are within a 2 mile radius of our centers, and then provide them with field trip programming for every grade – our goal is that every student in each school comes to the Urban Ecology Center, not just one time but ideally multiple times over the course of their school career (and sometimes multiple times in one year). Our fantastic educators work closely with the students' teachers to design programming that aligns with the school curriculum – the idea is that the Urban Ecology Center becomes an extension of the students' classroom: an outdoor laboratory for learning.

new growth in the valleyOur branch in the Menomonee Valley will soon be able to teach more students like this about the nature around them! Photo: Maddie Bird

Currently, we work with 11 schools at the Menomonee Valley branch. And this year, we are delighted to announce that we are expanding NEEP in the Valley! We are going from 2 educators to 4 educators, essentially doubling our capacity to provide programming to schools! In this first year, we will increase to 19 schools, with the idea being to grow to 22 in the coming years.

And the folks who make up our NEEP team, both new and returning, are AWESOME!! Let me introduce them:

  • Miguel Santos has been teaching at the Urban Ecology Center for 3 years, and anyone who has watched him teach has probably felt jealous of the kids in his program! He has an incredible, contagious energy and an excellent rapport with students of all ages, so we are lucky to have him as a mentor for our new educators.
  • Michael Espinoza, who many of you know and love as our current MV Community Program Educator, will be transitioning into a new role as a NEEP educator this year, and we are thrilled to have him on board! His positivity and enthusiasm have won the hearts of many Young Scientists, and we can't wait for even more kids to get a chance to learn from and be inspired by him!*
  • Katie Schober is one of our new educators, and she comes to us with experience teaching at our neighboring Cristo Rey High School, so already has connections to the MV community. She has both formal education in and natural aptitude/passion for teaching, children, science, and nature. She easily made connections with kids when she visited a NEEP class, and has a confident, kind demeanor with a strong teaching pedagogy.
  • Carlos Manriquez is our other new educator, and he has most recently been working with teenagers at Waukesha County Health and Human Services. He was drawn to the UEC through his personal passions around nature and the health benefits of the outdoors. Carlos is a deeply compassionate person with a warm and thoughtful demeanor, and he has an impressive natural aptitude/intuition for teaching. He is fully bilingual and has lots of personal and professional connections to the South Side community.

*And we are just as excited about Eric Kleppe-Montenegro, who will be taking over the Community Program Educator position that Michael is leaving. Eric comes to us with a wide variety of youth organizing and community education experience, and he is TRI-lingual! (English, Spanish, & Portuguese!). His educational background is in Sociology, as well as Latino Studies and Social Change and he has a clear passion for community work, particularly with young people. We were “wow-ed” by his application and interview, and we are all super excited to have his new energy on the team.

As the school years starts we're ready with an amazing team, and are so excited for kids to learn from such talented and passionate educators!

And as with any growth, there are challenges that come along with the excitements – it's all part of the process. If you've visited the Menomonee Valley branch, you know it has quite a bit smaller footprint than our other two branches, so we are going to become experts at space sharing! You can definitely help with that too – your patience as we learn how to use our space to its full capacity is much appreciated. You might notice slightly more commotion during the school day as twice as many groups come through the building, so we hope you'll join us in enjoying the "ruckus" – after all, what sound is more "Urban Ecology Center" than the jubilant sounds of learning? We will still maintain all our offerings for adults and families, so you won't miss out on anything – you just may be sharing the building (and the park!) with more people. Which is a good thing!

So, in four years we've gone from zero to over 12,500 in terms of visits from children this year – can you imagine how many more kiddos will be coming through our doors (and more importantly, OUT our doors and into the park!) in the coming year!? It's pretty exciting. We couldn’t be more thrilled to have the opportunity to connect more people to nature right in their neighborhood, and we couldn’t be more grateful for the support of our community (that’s you!) that make it possible.


Please consider a gift to support this important work. With your help, we can continue to bring so much life to our community.

Glenna Holstein

Glenna Holstein

Glenna grew up a mile up the river from the Riverside Park, so the Urban Ecology Center has always been important to her. Her studies and work have taken her all over the hemisphere, but her home has always been right here in Milwaukee. As Menomonee Valley Branch Manager, she is delighted to be part of the team that is working to connect a new community to the nature in their neighborhood. Her favorite things to do include hiking, exploring, cooking, singing, building forts, and trying to convince children that cockleburs are really baby porcupines!

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