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Brookstown Middle received a Green Ribbon award Wednesday, May 22, 2019, from the U.S. Department of Education for its efforts to improve the environment, in particular its two-year-old aquaponics program. Here aquaponics instructor Lauraleigh Eddleman guides Brian Patterson, 12, Kalia Labeuf, 14, and Damarion Winns, 12, as the students explain the fish tank, lower left, and other parts of the process in the program's lab at Brookstown Middle School, where ExxonMobil is partnering to provide the program, Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017. The middle school scientists grow lettuce and raise catfish from fingerlings to eating size, learning about science along the way.

Brookstown Middle in Baton Rouge is the only Louisiana school, and one of only 35 across the country, to win U.S. Green Ribbon awards this year from the federal government for its commitment to conservation and environmental education.

The U.S. Department of Education announced the latest rounds of Green Ribbons, launched in 2012, on Wednesday. Brookstown was nominated by state officials.

"When a combination of great students, great teachers and great administrators come together, the end result is always phenomenal,” Brookstown Principal James Smith said.

The small north Baton Rouge middle school has made a name for itself via a program for aquaponics, a marriage of aquaculture and hydroponics. Started two years ago with the help of Ronnie Morris, an electrical engineer at ExxonMobil, a third of the Brookstown Middle’s 180-plus students are enrolled.

As part of that program, students raise catfish and use the fish waste to grow lettuce. They harvested a total of 140 pounds of lettuce in 21 different varieties during the first semester of the current school year. Some of the lettuce was served to students in the school cafeteria.

Morris expanded the program to nearby Istrouma High and founded a nonprofit called WeProduceGrads. Along the way, the program has forged partnerships with ExxonMobil as well as Tony’s Seafood, the Wilson Foundation and several arms of LSU.

Morris said he's "thrilled" by the federal recognition. He describe the aquaponics program as an example of “sustainable education that helps all students engage in hands-on, authentic learning, hone critical thinking and collaboration skills, stay active and fit, and develop a solid foundation in many disciplines.”

In its application for the Green Ribbon award, Brookstown listed other green accomplishments:

  • Reduced energy consumption by 29%, greenhouse gas emissions by 27.3% and water consumption by 14%.
  • "Concerted efforts" to use less paper, with all classes moving to a paperless model, "using Chromebooks to replace textbooks and assignments for students."
  • Formed a “green team,” comprised of students, faculty members and parents, that has sponsored recycling drives for items such as Brookstown sweatshirts and bottle caps, and develops a week’s worth of lessons each year focusing on environmental theme.
  • Planting a school flower garden, a project led by students.
  • Enrolled almost half its students in nutrition classes that teach portion size, dietary guidelines and the physical and mental problems that can flow from poor dietary choices and lack of exercise.

Three other Baton Rouge public schools have received Green Ribbon awards: Baton Rouge Magnet High, Mayfair Lab School and Westdale Heights Academic Magnet.

Follow Charles Lussier on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier.