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Need for Speed met at Riverside through Pinewood Derby



This April was host to the 20th annual pinewood derby races at Northwest Passage Riverside.

The need for speed was racing through our Riverside Creative Arts program as the residents worked feverishly to create unique and original car designs to enter into the big race. From trucks to convertibles, the various designs were tested and adjusted by each student to maximize the speed of their cars. We were even lucky enough to have a celebrity appearance by Mater from the movie Cars as he raced backwards down the track.

After the cars were completed, and race day arrived, we all gathered around our pinewood derby raceway. The races took place, cheers and laughter could be heard echoing around the Riverside grounds, as each student entered their car to race against staff and peers. The excitement and sportsmanship witnessed amongst the residents truly made the 20th annual pinewood derby race a memorable and inspirational experience.

Ben Johnson – Riverside Teacher

Northwest Passage focuses on many areas of care for our kids. One is through our expressive arts program. This program at Riverside gives the boys a chance to take part in classic boyhood experiences that they may be missing out on during their stay with us or that they may never have gotten to experience if they did not come to be with us.


Thinking outside of the box, with boxes… and MORE!


As you know, our experiential education programming has allowed InaNewLight to soar to great heights and allows learners of all types to reclaim a love for the classroom. Now take a moment to see our educators, and kids, in action as they strive to provide a classroom experience to fit all of our kids’ needs; to ignite a passion for learning.

By combining service, nature, and project-based learning we are curating classroom experiences where our kids are excelling at learning, sometimes for the first time. If you’d like to learn about what we’ve been up to, here are just a few stories to get you started.

We are proud of the education the kids at Passage receive during a very difficult time in their lives. The kids that come to us are dealing with mental health and emotional challenges, but they’re also struggling with the realities of living away from home, meeting new people, making friends, and learning many new life skills. One thing we can do to help ease the kids into their home-away-from-home is to provide an adaptive education that looks and feel like a normal classroom. We still have science fairs, papers due, and those desks connected to their chair, but we also inject project based learning that can open up the classroom to learners of all levels.

Our educational curriculum is guided not only by state and core standards, but by the principals of living the PassageWay – learning to live a Therapeutic Lifestyle. This means that many of the elements to living a therapeutic lifestyle are incorporated into the classroom, resulting in a more dynamic approach to teaching. From service to time spent in nature, our kids have a robust learning experience that we’re proud to say is fully accredited and truly serves as a building block to success in life.


Snow, Ice, and Fishing


Nothing says winter like spending a day on the ice attempting to catch some fish! The Assessment’s Cedar Unit ventured to Big Butternut Lake in Luck to try their hand at ice fishing and bring home the big fish. The students first learned, in the classroom setting, about safety on the ice and the different variety of fish that lived in the lake. They created posters and other projects about the fish they chose to research.

No trip would be complete without learning about how to use the equipment – because let’s admit it – tangled fishing line is just no fun. The kids learned how to hook minnows and be patient (especially when the fish were not biting), as well as set up a tip-up. While waiting for the fish to bite we had a variety of different activities set up for the kids to stay active and engaged. These included building snow sculptures, sliding contests, and ice bowling.

Students also took advantage of the weather and brought cameras to explore a different side of winter – on the ice. Learning about how light affects photography on the ice was a key teaching point. Molly, our expressive arts teacher, worked with several students to identify the most effective angles and how to manipulate light to get the shot they wanted.

Hannah Curran – Assessment, Cedar Unit Teacher

Northwest Passage is committed to the recreational care of our kids. Our teachers and staff get the kids outside trying new recreational activities in order to help the kids find things that they may have not known that they would enjoy. This not only gives them something to look forward to during their stay at Northwest Passage but also teaches them something that they can do for fun when they leave.


Together against bullying



160,000 students skip school each day because of bullying and 3.2 million students are bullied each year. Students who experience bullying are at increased risk for depression, anxiety, sleep difficulties, and poor school adjustment (

At Northwest Passage, we work hard to teach our residents compassion and kindness. Through daily programming, weekly groups and special events, the girls at Prairieview are given many opportunities to learn and practice positive social behaviors that foster empathy and tolerance.

For example, the girls participate in a weekly character development group that covers a variety of traits including: compassion, empathy, respect, tolerance, attitude, preparation, honesty, integrity, self-control, and responsibility. The group allows for a safe space for discussion and personal growth through discussion, activities and weekly homework. The girls also have weekly unit goals that target their interpersonal skills while in treatment, focusing on effective communication and respect for others.

On October 21, 2015, Unity Day was celebrated nationwide and Prairieview participated in full force. The girls participated in a variety of activities including t-shirt decorating and team chalk murals. All staff members were involved as well, with every person in the building wearing orange t-shirts that they personally decorated. The chalk mural project challenged the girls to make a final product that showcased their individual talents as well as their ability to problem solve and work together. 16 residents were split up in to teams and given blank chalkboard canvases and a picture that they had to re-create. The process was amazing to watch and unfolded beautifully. Initially, the teams struggled to communicate and respect each other’s comfort levels with the task. Many groups had to start over while others had to make adjustments throughout the process to keep their artwork consistent. The girls spent several hours working on their pieces and strived for perfection. The murals exceeded all expectations and allowed for very productive, creative and fun team building project. The girls beamed with pride, showing off big smiles as staff expressed their excitement over the finished products. The murals are now hung around the building, reminding all staff and residents on a daily basis that when all differences are set aside, you can work together and be successful!

Your donations make projects like this possible. You are with us when we are teaching these teens to respect each other and show compassion and kindness to everyone they meet. You make it happen. Anything you give makes a difference. Thank you for your support.

Northwest Passage is dedicated to the social care of our kids. This is done through events like Unity Day, where they are taught not to bully their peers, but instead to show respect for all people.


In a New Light Internships now Available!

“In a New Light” Therapeutic Nature Photography

Internships at Northwest Passage

Application Deadline: Applications will be reviewed and considered as they are received, so apply as soon as possible. All applications must be submitted by April 1.

Northwest Passage is seeking talented and caring interns whose passion for nature and creative expression is matched only by their motivation to help children.

Serving over 350 children per year, Northwest Passage has been a leading non-profit youth mental health treatment organization since 1978. But don’t let our age fool you. We implement some of the most dynamic and innovative youth programming you’ll find anywhere. “In a New Light” is a groundbreaking program that harnesses the power of art and nature to instill a sense of hope and empowerment in the lives of struggling youth ( With an emphasis on intensive nature photography training, including underwater photography, the program has a dramatic impact not only on the way our youth view themselves, but also on the way the world views them. Millions have witnessed the youths’ accomplishments through PBS and other television, the TED stage, nationwide exhibitions, documentary film, and other media. Northwest Passage is seeking talented and passionate interns who want learn how to design and implement world-class arts and nature-based programming, and become part of our ambitious mission.

Description of the “In a New Light” Internship:

Northwest Passage is seeking 3-4 interns to assist with either boys’ or girls’ therapeutic nature photography and underwater photography programs. Duties include the following:

  • Directly assist with preparation and implementation of experiential arts and nature-based programming. This includes 1-2 full-day nature photography excursions per week.
  • Directly assist with preparation and implementation of up to one underwater photography excursion per week.
  • Potential to design and implement your own arts or nature-based program if desired, based on your personal skills and interests. This may include music, pottery, creative writing, or any other programming you can envision.
  • Assist participants with with photo editing and processing in the digital darkroom.
  • Coordinate digital file management of youths’ photos.
  • Mentor clients through the process of writing creative reflection to accompany their photos.
  • Work alongside experienced and talented staff. Supervision and mentorship provided by program directors and the Expressive Arts Coordinator.
  • Participate in formal training and discussion sessions and a weekly basis.
  • Assist in day-to-day operations of a residential treatment facility.
  • Assist with special projects and community outreach events as necessary.


  • Free housing
  • Stipend of $500 per month
  • Training and mentorship from skilled leaders and innovators
  • Unmatched real-world experience in the fields of mental health, arts programming, and nature-based programming

Required Abilities:

  • Strong communication skills with both youth and adults
  • Ability to connect to youth from highly diverse backgrounds
  • Comfort in working both independently and in an intense team environment
  • Strong detail-oriented organization and planning skills
  • An authentic interest and comfort in nature, including intense wilderness settings
  • An authentic interest and experience in the arts.
  • Photography and/or filmmaking experience is strongly preferred but not required.

How to apply:

Send the following two items to Ben Thwaits, Program Development Coordinator at

  1. Cover letter stating why you are interested in gaining experience and skills at Northwest Passage
  2. Detailed resume, including work experience

Watch some videos about our work!

Exploring Robotics through Trial and Error


The kids walked away from the classroom learning more than just a little science, but how to persevere through challenges and to trust that through hard work and a little time, they can overcome the obstacles in their lives.

Recently the Cedar classroom within the Assessment program has been busy using Legos to learn about programming, building robots, and overcoming obstacles. As part of this project each client participated in “the hour of code”- learning the basics of computer programming and got a hands on opportunity to use it to guide characters through a minecraft maze. “The Hour of Code” is organized by which is dedicated to expanding participation in computer science by making it available in more schools, and increasing participation by women and underrepresented students of color. It is broken into self-guided tutorials that allow students to work through the skills at their own pace. By far the most popular choice for Cedar was MindCraft!

After learning these skills residents got the opportunity to work in groups to solve a challenge. Using two Motors they were asked to create a vehicle that could move items from once place to another. After a quick group brainstorming session the kids were off and designing away! Three designs came out in the end and were all very unique.

The final test was trying to move a group of marbles. After some initial challenges the groups had to return to the drawing board to add some additions onto their creations. It was discovered that just a single plow was not effective, so sides were added and SUCCESS! Another group developed a gear system to move the wheels to increase their vehicles speed while the last group opted to attempt to build a claw that would pick up items.

Through this project the kids really got the chance to “do” science and learn that it is not a single step process, but something that is always changing and that can take several tries before getting it right! We look forward to continuing our robotics adventures and expanding on our programming skills.

Hannah Curran – Assessment, Cedar Unit Teacher

Northwest Passage is dedicated to creating an engaging classroom. Our teachers are skilled in connecting with each child’s individual strengths and challenges.


Everyday Heroes – Riverside Gang!

Over the past few months, one Northwest Passage team in particular, exemplified what it means to be a hero at Passage. The Riverside evening primaries team, headed by Mike Brown, dealt with an especially difficult set of circumstances with positivity, great patience, and stellar creativity. Their program director, Angela Fredrickson, asked how we could honor, not only this team but employees across all of our sites, when their performance has far exceeded the traditional expectations of their roles. So here we are, creating our very first, “Everyday Hero” post to acknowledge their excellence.

As we wind-down a wonderful year at Passage, we’d like to take a moment to thank not only these Everyday Heroes, but all of our staff, our supporters, and YOU for reading. Keep an eye out for more posts like this and get to know the people that make Northwest Passage such a special place.


What does mental health mean to you?
“The ability to handle stressful events in the midst of a flurry of emotions.”

Read More

If you could send one message to someone struggling with their mental health out in the world, what would it be?
“Live in the moment and take one step at a time.”

Read More

What does mental health mean to you?
“To me mental health is like trying solve a Rubik’s cube while wearing a blindfold and mittens. At times it seems impossible and is daunting, but with time, patience, and perseverance anything is possible.”

Read More

If you could send one message to someone struggling with their mental health out in the world, what would it be?
“Your feelings are valid, and those who support you are sincere whether you embrace them or are not yet ready too.”

Read More

“Heroes are made by the paths they choose, not the powers they are graced with.”
― Brodi Ashton, Everneath

“Anyone who does anything to help a child in his life is a hero to me. ”
― Fred Rogers

If you could send one message to someone struggling with their mental health out in the world, what would it be?
“There is no way to fix an individual nor are any of us broken, what we can do is develop tools to make ourselves make better decisions and be more positive.”

Read More


Off to the Theater

The Prairieview girls have been reading To Kill a Mockingbird in school and recently attended the Guthrie Theater’s To Kill a Mockingbird play in Minneapolis, MN. It was their first time to the Guthrie for all of the girls and the first time to Minneapolis for several of them. The girls were in awe of the theater and the experience was a great one for all who attended! After the play, the girls attended a Q and A session with the cast members. In class, the girls have been dissecting the book by learning new vocabulary, practicing their creative writing skills by developing and extending the characters, participating in literature circles, and researching the themes of the book.

Brittany Bosak, Northwest Passage Prairieview Teacher

Prairieview-Guthrie- (1) Prairieview-Guthrie- (2)

Our teachers at Northwest Passage are always looking for new ways to teach our youth. Taking the girls to see “To Kill a Mockingbird” at the Guthrie Theater is another example. Seeing the play after reading the books is not only a culturally enriching experience but also has significant educational benefits. It helps students to better understand the plot and vocabulary of the book/play, so overall improving their literary knowledge. It also improves their ability to read the emotions of others, enhancing empathy.

Prairieview Science Fair

Prairieview held its second annual science fair this fall! The science fair is a showcase to display weeks of hard work in the classroom. The science fair unit begins with an in-depth look at the scientific method and experimental design. The girls begin with basic classroom labs, writing hypotheses and analyzing data. They learn how to design a sound experiment with all the necessary components. The exciting part about this unit is that it mixes science, writing, language, math, art and social skills all into one exciting experience.  The expectation of the project is that the students are leading the way with their teachers guiding them as needed. Each student is allowed to do a project of their choice at their own academic level.  The process is full of inquiry and discovery. The girls learn that there is no failing in research and that the scientific method is always successful in some way. The types of projects chosen varied, including experiments researching the statistical probability of M&M colors, respiration rates in dogs, the genetics of the tortoiseshell cat, best way to make a chocolate chip cookie, visual vs. auditory memory, how do puppies stay warm, what is the best homemade pop recipe based on bubbles, grittiness and flavor, and how to make the best bubble solution. Some projects took several hours to conduct while others took days, challenging the girls to be patient and consistent.  They learned how to organize their data and report the results using visual graphs. They incorporated the use of technology using iPads to film their trials, record data and take photos. Several of the projects required the girls to use specific computer programs or websites to conduct their research and carry out their procedure.

At the cumulating event, the girls all stood proudly in front of their projects and shared them with residents and visiting staff members of Northwest Passage. The education team at Northwest Passage strives to set high standards for their students while supporting them through the process. We are very proud of these young scientists from their diligent lab work to their outstanding presentations. We also appreciate those who attended the science fair to make the event a success. Thank you and we look forward to doing it again next year!

Brittany Bosak, Prairieview Teacher


What is experimental design?

The Prairieview girls are learning about the scientific method and experimental design in science! The girls have completed several science labs and are working on their own science projects for the upcoming science fair. They spent a morning learning about scientific research in the real world from Northwest Passage’s own, Ben Thwaits.

Ben worked as a Biologist prior to his employment with Northwest Passage with a Masters in Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior with a neuroscience minor from the University of Minnesota. He has completed research from the Wisconsin Northwoods to India. He spoke about his experiences with science and the integration of science and art.  Ben focused his presentation on a three-year project he completed on Lake Superior studying homing mechanisms in trout and salmon.

The girls were engaged and intrigued as they saw the diversity of experimental design and the tasks that research scientists endure. Thank you Ben for coming to talk to us and sharing your experience and passion for science!

Brittany Bosak, Prairieview Teacher

Science is one of the many subjects that Northwest Passage teachers focus on in their classrooms every day of the week. Science helps to teach students how and why things work the way that they do. Science teaches a wide variety of concepts. It can help those at Northwest Passage to understand many different mechanics and functioning of complex systems.

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