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Women of the Valley goes underwater

The girls at Northwest Passage Prairieview set out on a special underwater photography excursion featuring special guest Emily Stone. Emily is an education director and naturalist at the Cable History Museum in Wisconsin. She is a gardener and explorer of the natural world. The Prairieview girls shared the day with Emily and eagerly showed her tips and tricks of taking excellent underwater photos as well as how to prepare for the day. They all slipped on their wet suits, placed snorkel masks over their heads, and squeezed their feet into flippers to get started.


They began exploring the Namekagon Dam region with faces in water. From the surface, the girls appear to be calm, gently bobbing up and down on the surface of the clean, bronze water. Descending into water with their eyes wide open, the girls hover above an abundance of animated life. Water plants sway and turn under their noses. Schools of fish dart around their cameras and bodies. Crayfish retreat to nearby rocks and then cautiously peek out to continue on with their work. The sun expands underwater and turns the particles around them into gold specs. Suspended in this watery space, the girls continue to photograph. A young girl captures a picture of a shiner fighting the current under the dam, and a conversation emerges about the playful fish. With each new discovery of a species, the hands-on experience brings new unexpected knowledge.

When lunch time started (Emily brought garden fresh carrots to share with everyone), the girls interviewed Emily to understand her role in protecting the water. The girls first asked “What is your happy place?” Emily responded by telling the girls about the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. She also spoke about the way species interact with their environments and the ways a trait will be favored given a climate (phenotypic plasticity.) Emily also mentioned her favorite poet, Mary Oliver, and the ways poets speak and relay information about the natural world around us. Lydia finished the interview by taking some candid portrait photos of Emily.

Wild Geese : By Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting over

and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

Underwater photography trips are a part of Northwest Passage’s In a New Light: Under the Surface project. The girls love these weekly excursions and the time spent in the water, observing their natural world. The experience includes swimming, learning, and growing closer to understanding a vital aspect of life on earth — water.

Mussel in Action

Prairieview resident, Siarra, got to see a special member of our ecosystem in action! All thanks to the underwater photography programming here at Northwest Passage and the awesome staff who help guide our kids down a better path every day to ensure they’ll be able to take part in these kinds of unique opportunities.

According to the Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway: “The St. Croix River is known for having a mostly intact mussel population. Meaning, the species that lived here 100 years ago are still the species living here today. This includes 40 species of mussels, five of which are on the endangered species list.” You can learn more on their website here.

Mussel siphoning at the Gordon Dam.


Nature Ed at Crex Meadows

Prairieview girls participated in an educational lesson at Crex Meadows where they learned about Nature Journaling. The girls made their own journals and practiced their observation skills outside.

They played a fun mystery game with objects hidden in brown paper bags.

The girls also had a surprise visit from a deer and her spotted fawn.

They had a great morning! Thank you to Kristy, the nature educator at Crex Meadows, for the fabulous lesson!

Brittany Bosak, Prairieview Teacher

Northwest Passage values teaching residents outside of the traditional classroom. Getting the kids out of chairs and into the world helps to make the learning concepts real and relevant to the world. It allows them to learn through play and experimentation. It exposes them to new opportunities and helps develop their interest in the environment and other surroundings.

Under the Surface showing in Cable

An exhibit featuring the New Light Under the Surface photographs was recently held at the Cable Natural History Museum. Several of the kids got the chance to showcase their talents and gain some well-deserved pats on the back.

The girls each showed off photographs they had taken under the surface and gave moving speeches about their underwater experience.

See other underwater photos on the online gallery at: New Light Under the Surface.

Riverside boys find the beauty in nature

The riverside boys have spent a lot of time outdoors working on their nature photography. They have become very good at spotting natural beauty. Here are just a few of the many pictures they have taken this summer.


I like this picture because it is one of my better pictures and I spent like 10 minutes just getting the light and stuff just perfect. This picture is a result of a lot of hard work.

– Passage Resident


I like this picture because it looks like I am inside some weird science fiction movie. This picture was taken accidentally because I didn’t know how it would turn out. And it reminds me how I thought coming to Passage was a big mistake but it turned out not to be a mistake.

– Passage Resident

See other beautiful shots they have taken. Visit to see more.

Riverside boys get muddy in Savage Dash

The Riverside boys got the chance to participate in the Savage Dash (AKA Mud run) held in Spooner, Wisconsin over the weekend. The Dash is a 5K run that features various muddy obstacles and lots of fun throughout the course.

As the residents at Passage move through our treatment programs, they have many opportunities for growth. When the kids do especially well, they earn special privileges, like participating in public events like the Savage Dash. Two of our boys, Carlos and Garret, have earned this opportunity and were able to compete over the weekend. Carlos and Garret have have done a great job in showing respect for themselves and others and they are willing to participate in all activities in the program. Well done guys!

One of their staff members, Xavier, ran alongside them throughout the race. Garret finished strong coming in sixth overall, but all three who competed had a great time and were covered in mud by the end of it.

Two other boys, Holden and Mathanial, also had an opportunity to partake in the festivities – they stood on the sidelines cheering on their peers and capturing the event through the lens of cameras.

Mike Brown, Riverside Supervising Staff

Northwest Passage thinks community is important and we incorporate this into our programs. We like to get the residents participating in community events to show them the love and support that comes from being a part of a community. It shows them that when they are part of a community, they are not alone. It also helps them build their communication skills.

Prairieview harvests a healthy snack

The ladies at Prairieview started a garden this spring and they just harvested the fruits, or should we say vegetables, of their labor.  The girls were able to harvest some fresh green beans, cucumbers, zucchini, and broccoli, giving them organic and fresh produce to serve for their evening snack.

They also grated up some zucchini and froze it to make bread, cake, and other goodies over the fall and winter.

The peppermint, spearmint and chamomile should be ready soon for the group to make a calming tea after they are harvested.

After gaining this gardening experience, the group may also try experimenting with growing hoops this fall.

Tracey Mofle, Prairieview Weekend Primary Staff

Growing and harvesting a garden teaches the residents of Northwest Passage many things. It teaches them a respect for the environment and shows them where their food comes from. It teaches them to care and nurture the plants.  It gets them eating healthy. It teaches them to work together to reach a goal.

Girls finish strong in 5K

Three Prairieview girls participated in the third annual Webster Education Foundation 5K on Saturday, August 8. The Webster Education Foundation funds enrichment projects in Webster that enhance educational programs; it was a great event for the girls to participate in!

Week after week, the three girls got up earlier than any of their peers in order to train for the event. They started the race at the Webster High School at 8 a.m. on Saturday morning and each of them finished in the top of their age groups. Ndolo (No. 169) finished first in her age group, Alexis (No. 170) finished second in her age group, and Lydia (No. 173) finished second in her age group.

They showed dedication in both training and participating. Several members of the staff ran alongside the girls while others greeted them at the finish line, supporting them every step of the way.

Physical activity is a priority at all Northwest Passage programs because regular physical activity is not only good for the kids’ bones and muscles, but it also helps to reduce feelings of depression and anxiety and promote overall psychological well-being.

Fun with Track and Field Day

Northwest Passage Riverside held their fourth annual Track and Field Day on Thursday, July 16. The boys at Riverside used different skills as they competed in some lighthearted events both individually and as a team, while also getting to enjoy some treats during the day.

There were five teams; the blue, green, yellow, purple and pink team. Each team consisted of four or five kids and one staff member. During the events, the boys had to work together completely, using all their social and team-building skills. They had to review each challenge and figure out the best way to complete it. They used the problem solving skills they have been working diligently to improve and together came up with the best solution. They were there to help each other and always cheer on their teammates. The team activities included: two relay races, Oreo contest, golf ball toss, the obstacle course, and wet sponge dodge ball.

They also had the opportunity to strive as individuals through a pie-eating contest, punt-pass-kick competition, soccer kick, 40 yard dash, and basketball shooting. These types of activities helped to keep the boys active while also reminding them of good sportsmanship. Each individual showed strengths and had something to be proud of at the end of the day. They all enjoyed themselves immensely and were given praise for their accomplishments.

The boys got the chance to experience the treats of “fair food” for lunch with special treats such as fruit/cool-whip funnel cakes, foot long hot dogs, mini-donuts, deep-fried Oreos and others. Healthy eating is a big deal here at Northwest Passage, so this was a very special thing just for the day and the boys LOVED it!

Erin Hermann, Riverside Teacher

Track and Field day is not the only event that Riverside holds in order to help its residents actively practice team building skills. They also work on life-sized cardboard boats for several weeks that they eventually race across Clam Lake and they compete in derby car races! Sign-up for our newsletter so you don’t miss any of the fun!

Prairieview goes to Namekagon River on photojournalism assignment

On July 25, a group of four young girls from Northwest Passage Prairieview hiked down to Schaefer Cabin for a day of recreation and relaxation. Schaefer Cabin, is tucked away in the woods sitting above the Namekagon River. The rustic log cabin, large grass yard, cozy fire pit area, and alluring forests surrounding this region makes it an ideal place to find privacy and peace. (Schaefer Cabin is in the process of being renovated to become a retreat center for residents at Northwest Passage.) On this day, the girls were there to play by the river, but they also had their first photojournalism assignment. Meet, interview, and photograph Branda Thwaits.


Park Ranger Branda arrived shortly after the girls finished their picnic lunch. Branda stepped out of her truck with her inviting smile, hopeful eyes, and bright voice. She works as a ranger for the National Park Service and is considered to be an ambassador to the local river ways. She is a brilliant planner with a knack for connecting groups of people with positive experiences on the Wisconsin rivers. Branda brought along her mucking tools, and together we gathered on the shoreline of the Namekagon River to explore together. We began to investigate and learn about the small creatures that are usually overlooked by the paddlers and fisherman.

Branda Collage

One young girl timidly conversed with Branda about the thought of leeches being in the water. Nevertheless, these nature girls forged ahead leaving the worries of leeches behind after realizing the cool sandy water was more or less a place of sanctuary. I looked out to see these young girls playing in the water. They were enthusiastic about the bugs and small creatures they were finding. I watched from a distance as one photojournalist (aka resident) hunted to capture a frog with Branda. I also caught sight of Branda exclaiming the discovery of a dragonfly nymph – the first one to be found by the girls. The girls happily mucked in the river as the water slowly grazed past their legs. After a short period of time Park Ranger Branda helped the girls identify dragonfly nymphs, caddis fly homes, minnows, crayfish and a frog.


Soon it was time to get to know this incredible woman on a more personal level. The interview first began with a remarkable introduction by one of the girls. She asked Branda “What is your happy place?” Branda immediately lit up with the thoughtful question and fired back with the curiosity of wanting to know who came up with such an insightful question. Little did we know the thoughtful, honest, empathetic, and earnest conversation that was about to unfold for all the girls… The conversation that evolved from these interview questions led into moments of vulnerability for each girl, and for Branda. “What is the most challenging obstacle you have overcome?” Branda answered by discussing the difficulties of parenting. The girls responded with answers reflecting on their treatment. One girl decided that admitting she needed help was the most difficult thing she has had to do. Another girl recounts her difficulties with being away from home. The interview continued with a mixture of light-hearted questions. “Do you have any pets” and “what do you think your best traits are- why?” Branda responded to the second question by describing her ability to find the good in people, a trait she picked up from her father. The girls explained their skills in dance, having a positive attitude, the ability to speak languages, and one young girl deciding one of her best traits is being brave. Overall, the atmosphere sitting together on the bank of Namekogen River was genuine, open, and moving. Branda allowed each girl to find connection to her by listening to the individual thoughts and passions of the girls. Before long, time was running low, and the girls needed to get back for dinner.

Before we left the girls snapped some portrait photos of the compassionate individual they spent time getting to know. Each girl approached the shot with different images in mind, and Branda eagerly played along. Overall, it was a moving and memorable experience. It seemed to have sparked a sense of connection for several of the girls. The connection to the natural world, and in a short amount of time they were given a connection to a remarkable role model. Each of the young ladies was reminded of her own great traits and how everyone has had to overcome obstacles in life, making their journeys feel a little less daunting.

“Women of the Valley” is a photojournalism project at Northwest Passage that connects the young women in our program to the women who are shaping the culture of our region. Through telling the stories of these women, the young artists ultimately learn to understand, share, and shape their own stories.

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