Contact us Monday through Friday 8am to 5pm at 715-327-4402

Prairieview and Assessment Students Celebrate Outdoor Classroom Day

INTERNATIONAL MOVEMENT ENCOURAGES KIDS TO “THINK OUTSIDE”!

Northwest Passage hosted their second Outdoor Classroom Day event on November 1st as part of an international movement to get kids outdoors. The teachers and kids at Prairieview and Assessment in Frederic spent all morning enjoying the brisk and sunny fall weather while participating in outdoor activities that encouraged them to “think outside.” Activities included a prairie hunt challenge, relay races, STEM challenge with apples, handmade bird feeders, chalk art, nature photography, archery, and outdoor yard games run by the awesome Northwest Passage staff!

Our education team works to incorporate outdoor and experiential education opportunities to all students across all subject areas on a daily basis. These special days are important for the students and staff as they break up the regular school day routine and provide a positive outlet for everyone’s energy. They are also a lot of fun! These types of activities provide a unique opportunity for staff to work with students other than those in their regular classes and for staff to collaborate with one another to organize the event.

Outdoor Classroom Day is a global campaign to celebrate and inspire outdoor learning and play. “Outdoor learning improves children’s healthengages them with learning and leads to a greater connection with nature. Play not only teaches critical life skills such as resilienceteamwork, and creativity but is central to children’s enjoyment of childhood.”

Outdoor Classroom Day has a goal of helping people understand that spending time outdoors is as important for children’s development as learning to read and write. This belief coincides with Northwest Passages’ focus on blending traditional mental health treatment with arts and nature-based therapy to restore hope in the children and families we serve.

SHARE

The Gut-Brain Connection: More Than “We Are What We Eat”

“When we talk about health, we can’t just focus on heart health, or liver health, or brain health, and not whole health. You have to see the whole person and make use of the tools and resources that benefit minds and bodies together.” – Mental Health America

It is this connection between our minds and bodies that we here at Passage know all too well. We know how important it is for our kids and their mental health to have access to healthy foods, exercise, fresh air and beyond. But there is one area that we’re just learning about and we’re lucky to have a medical director who knows all about this topic. So, we enlisted Dr. Ammend to discuss the importance of the connection between our brain and our gut. Feel free to reach out to us if you have questions.

The Gut-Brain Connection: More Than “We Are What We Eat”
By David Ammend, MD

A few short years ago, I would cringe when I heard someone say the words “gut-brain connection.” It screamed fringe science, some off-shoot from immunizations-cause-autism or ADHD-is-only-a-food-allergy. But then I actually started to pay attention to what was being said. And it struck me that what they were saying evoked a line of thinking I had been having for years but had never been able to pull into a coherent whole: There is a connection between the increases we are seeing in brain dysfunction and the fact that our environment has been changing dramatically.

What is the “gut-brain connection?”

In its simplest form, the term refers to the many known ways in which a person’s digestive tract (the “gut” – especially the small and large intestines) and central nervous system (especially the brain) interact. The fact that they DO interact could be dramatically demonstrated by asking me to speak in front of a large crowd: My brain will immediately hate the idea, and in turn, my gut will threaten to rid itself of everything it contains. I will leave it to the reader to come up with his or her own list of colloquialisms involving fear and the clearing of one’s bowels. But suffice it to say, on some level the workings of the gut-brain connection are universally known, if not fully understood.

But who cares? The reason to care is that the attempts to understand the simple version of the gut-brain connection led to a better understanding of the links – neurological, biochemical, and hormonal – that exist between the two systems. And from there we began to see how things like neurocognitive impairment and mental illness can be affected by such things as diet, stress, trauma, and toxic exposures. And from THERE we can see how brain dysfunction can cause gut dysfunction (this is a two-way street) and consequently impact our general health. And from THERE we can…but I am getting ahead of myself.

Pulling the pieces together

The best overview that I have heard on this broad topic was in a presentation called “The Gut, the Brain, and Chemicals” by Andrew Campbell, M.D.* It was presented at an alternative and complementary medicine conference I attended in October 2015, and in part it attempts to explain the increase in some chronic conditions – including mental illnesses and neurodevelopmental disorders – that has been observed in recent years. While it is an oversimplification, I would summarize his line of thinking like this:

  • The Gut has two characteristics that make it a very powerful actor in determining our health:
    • A large surface area (the size of a tennis court) that is exposed to the outside world. Think about the digestive tract as essentially being exposed to our environment via our mouth. The things we eat (about a ton of food per year) bring “outside” substances – some of which are potentially harmful – into our bodies.
    • A large number of neurons – more than exist in the spinal cord. And like the spinal cord, the nerves of the gut have intricate connections to the central nervous system. So, unlike Vegas, what happens in the Gut doesn’t stay in the Gut.
  • The Gut also contains a massive community of microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, and viruses) that are collectively known as the human biome. It is a key mediator in the interaction between the gut and the brain. (Technically, the biome includes organisms that live on our skin and elsewhere in our body, but for this discussion, the part of the biome of most interest is that which is contained in the large intestine.) The organisms that make up our biome feed on nutrients in our gut, help break down molecules in our gut, and (write this down; it will be on the test!) produce neurotransmitters and hormones that can impact our own neurological and metabolic functioning. The fact that our gut microbiome contains approximately 4 times as many cells as we have human cells means that the potential for our microbiome to influence our health is great.
  • Both the composition and function of the microbiome are affected by changes in our environment. Dr. Campbell emphasizes that the way that human beings think, feel, and function has evolved over millennia. But the environmental conditions in which we currently live have changed rapidly and significantly from those that determined our evolution. A few examples of changes in those environmental conditions include processing of food; the radical explosion of the number of chemicals that we are exposed to (very few of which have been studied for safety); and our inundation by nanoparticles that can trigger both digestive system and central nervous system inflammation.

The uber-oversimplified recap is this: Changes in our environment (food, chemicals) and new forms of stresses can change the composition of the microbiome, leading to changes in the neurotransmitters produced in the gut. The changes in neurotransmitters can effect changes in mood, behavior and neurological functioning. All of this is further complicated by the inflammatory changes that may be going on in our intestines and/or brains as a result of exposure to toxic substances, and the end result is manifested as disruptions of our physical and mental health. (I will resist the temptation at this point of launching into a discussion on the false separation of mental and physical health.)

Hard stuff.

I once had a professor that, when approaching a particularly difficult to understand topic, would lean in and say “This is hard stuff.” Well, this is hard stuff indeed. Much is yet to be learned about the interweaving of gut and brain health. We still do not understand exactly how particular substances or stressors impact brain functioning. There are many potential mediators that might determine whether exposure to a particular substance ends up causing health problems: the strength of the exposure (“dose”); the time in one’s life one is exposed; one’s genetic susceptibility to suffering harm from the particular substance; simultaneous exposure to other substances; the presence or absence of protective factors; and the relative state of health of one’s microbiome, to name but a few. Change just one of those factors, and you may very well change whether the substance has no real impact on health or causes devastating health problems.

Until we work through all of the complexities of the system summarized above, it remains difficult to say with certainty which substances or stressors must be considered toxic from those that are safe. That is, which substances or stressors impair our gut and brain functioning vs. those that do not. But as these details become clearer, there is hope that we can develop more effective ways of treating mental illness and cognitive dysfunction – or avoiding those problems altogether.

There is a lot of work left to be done. But what we know so far suggests that our changing environment and rapidly evolving lifestyles may be causing harm to us in ways that we have only recently begun to understand.

Plenty of food for thought there. Hard stuff.

*For an interview with Dr. Campbell on this topic, see https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4712858/

Grand Opening!

NORTHWEST PASSAGE GROWS CAPACITY FOR HOPE IN WISCONSIN

Northwest Passage is celebrating its increased capacity for serving children and families at its Frederic location this week with an Open House. The Prairieview and Assessment programs have gained a new Wellness Center, complete with a gym and both an outdoor and indoor classroom, and Prairieview added a new unit. The event will be held Thursday, August 24 from 3:30 – 5:30 pm at the new Wellness Center at 201 United Way in Frederic.

Situated at the south edge of town, Northwest Passage operates two mental health residential treatment programs serving youth struggling with mental illness ages 6-17. Ellen Race says of the programs, “treatment deals with everything from their physical and mental health, academics, and fun. Adding a facility like the Wellness Center provides greater quality of care, rain or shine.” As a part of the Wellness Center expansion, Northwest Passage has committed to providing an immersive, environmentally themed, project-based educational curriculum.

The students will work with a number of pollinator friendly projects throughout the year. They will work to assist Northwest Passage in the restoration of a portion of its land to native prairie grasses through multiple projects such as the St. Croix Master Watershed Stewards rain garden initiative and the National Park Service’s Pollinator Pledge. They will work directly with pollinators through service at Horst M. Rechelbacher Foundation’s pollinator lab, by tending to their own beehive. They will also grow pollinator dependent fruits and vegetables in their own gardens thanks to St. Croix Valley Foundations support and make pollinator friendly art projects – all of which will be on display at Thursday’s open house.

Tours will also be given of the newest unit at Prairieview. “We’re excited to be showing off our new unit in our Prairieview program,” says executive director Mark Elliott.  “There is a dramatic shortage of residential mental health services in the state and all over the country. This expansion does a small part in reaching that need. It allows us to pursue our mission with even more kids.”

Northwest Passage would like to thank the St. Croix Valley Foundation as a number of these projects received funding from the SCVF and the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin.

SHARE

See Suicide Behaviors In a New Light

PASSAGE REFLECTS ON CARE AND TREATMENT OF SUICIDE AND SELF-HARM

We here at Passage are all too familiar with the pain and fear associated with suicide and self-harm, as many of our residents have experiences with suicidal thoughts and/or attempts. We wanted to take a moment to honor the spirit behind Suicide Awareness Month by talking about just what these behaviors are and how we can look at this phenomenon “In a New Light.” Join Riverside’s Clinical Director, Angela Frederickson, as she discusses this salient topic.

Suicide and self-harm behaviors can be some of the scariest expressions of mental illness that youth and families experience. They can hold family systems hostage in such a compelling way that everyone feels trapped in a cycle of misery and fear. Those who engage in suicidal behaviors and/or self injury feel equally trapped and miserable. Often the overwhelming emotional load of this topic can prevent parents and helping professionals from effectively intervening in a sustainable way. Helpers can find themselves desperately working to eliminate the problems of suicidal behavior and self-harm behavior by taking away the means to engage in such behaviors, reducing the risks leading up to such behaviors, or addressing the fallout after suicide attempts or self-harm.

Simply stated, the only resolution to the problem of suicide behaviors and self-harm behaviors is to stop engaging them. However, looking at suicide and self-harm behaviors as a solution to a problem versus the problem itself opens clients, families, and helping professionals up to a whole range of possible and effective interventions. To open our minds to consider suicide and self-harm in this way, we must try to understand and ultimately accept that to the person contemplating suicide or engaging in self-harm, these solutions are completely valid and sensible options to unbearable situations. In order to find the empathy required to help, we must acknowledge that suicide/self-harm might be a reasonable response to deep psychological pain, a reasonable effort to express that which cannot be expressed, or a reasonable punishment for an individual with tremendous self-loathing.

When we find that place of understanding and have the courage to sit with that uncomfortable acceptance of another human’s unbearable pain, we are ready to begin searching for the actual problem. If suicidal and self-harm behaviors aren’t the actual problem…then what is the problem? Perhaps the problem is a lack of skills to effectively communicate emotional intensity or needs. Often youth who have a deficit of skills in effective communication will use suicide words or self-injurious behaviors as an attempt to share with others the desperation they feel. Perhaps the problem is feelings of guilt and a desire to relieve the burden a young person feels they have placed on those around them. Suicide might seem to present a viable resolution for this situation or the use of self-harm might feel like the only adequate punishment. Perhaps the problem is the experience of crushing depressive symptoms or the torment of hallucinations, nightmares, or flashbacks. Suicide or self-harm may be the only way to alleviate the psychological pain.

While the only solution for the problem of suicidal and self-harm behaviors is to stop those behaviors, there are a myriad of sustainable solutions for a deficit of skills, a desire to discontinue feelings of guilt/self-loathing, or a need to alleviate psychological pain. The team at Northwest Passage has gathered a multitude of evidenced-based interventions to help address these problems including Dialectical Behavioral Skills group, Wellness Recovery Action Planning, and therapeutic lifestyle choices.

These interventions for youth and families from leaders in the field – Marsha Linehan, Mary Ellen Copeland, and David A. Jobes – adhere to a unifying theme that there is nothing inherently wrong or mysteriously broken about a person who presents with suicide or self-harm behaviors. Such a person is simply a human being with intense pain who also possesses the capacity to heal, change, and grow. Informed by this belief, the focus of the work is to help youth and families harness the inherent strengths of those involved in the client system to systematically work toward building mental health and more sustainable problem solving.

SHARE

Caring for Flour Babies at Riverside

CARING FOR BAGS OF FLOUR CREATES DEEPER MEANING FOR YOUNG MEN AT RIVERSIDE

Meet the “Flour Babies” at Riverside and their proud “parents.”

Northwest Passage’s Riverside boys took on a new experience as they cared for ‘flour babies’ for two days. In health class, the boys had been talking about reproductive systems, pregnancy and childcare. Many classroom discussions were held, power point presentations presented, videos watched, group activities completed, internet research conducted and the final project concluded with each resident caring for their own flour baby.

The boys helped create and dressed their own flour baby, named their flour baby and decided where the baby would sit and sleep for the next two days. The boys had to take their flour baby with him to all areas of programming; school, creative arts, recreation, groups, therapy, etc. While they were in programming, a designated location was decided for daycare.

When this experience was done staff reflected with the boys about the past two days. Many boys enjoyed caring for something else other than themselves and they felt like they were needed by someone. A resident mentioned, “I woke up in the morning and I would check on my baby right away”. The boys learned a lot about themselves through this project, like how caring and compassionate they are but also that many of them are not ready for the responsibility of a baby.

CONSIDER SUPPORTING OUR EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING

Northwest Passage is dedicated to the experiential education of our kids. Through activities like this, kids are able to bring topics from the classroom to whole new level. Thanks to the dedication of our teachers and staff and support from donors like you, we’re able to offer exceptional opportunities like this that truly teach our kids to enjoy school again.

SHARE

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

CLASSROOM FUN SPARKS LOVE FOR LEARNING AT PASSAGE

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.

SHARE

Northwest Passage Riverside Captures Gitchi Gumee In a New Light

THE YOUNG MEN OF RIVERSIDE HIT THE SHORES OF LAKE SUPERIOR

Experiential learning on the shores of Lake Superior connects boys to nature, history, and even themselves.

Gitchi Gumee, otherwise known as Lake Superior, lies just over an hour’s drive up the road from Northwest Passage Riverside – practically in our own backyard! Over the course of the next year, the young men at Riverside will turn their camera lenses and desire for adventure to “the Big Lake” while they learn about culture, history, and the environment. They will explore the tributaries, shorelines, lighthouses and beaches while they capture the many faces of the lake and discover the healing power of Gitchi Gumee.

So why are we so excited about spending time at the shores of Gitchi Gumee? Well, for anyone who’s ever been there, it is obvious. But just to be clear let’s talk a little more about her. She is the biggest body of freshwater on earth. Three quadrillion gallons of it sloshing around in a sand and stone basin that was formed by volcanic activity over a billion years ago. From east to west the Lake is just over 350 miles long. From north to south, 160 miles. One could more easily travel from Miami to Seattle than trace each foot of shoreline* along the Lake. The water is home to 78 species of fish, countless invertebrates, mammals and birds. It is so clear that  along most of its coast you can see down deep, to the sandy bottom. However, it’s much deeper than you can see – over 1300 feet at its greatest depth east of the Keweenaw Peninsula. If Lake Superior were drained it would cover the entirety of North America in about a foot and a half of water.

Gitchi Gumee is far more than facts and figures and math and measurements, though. She is calm waves on endless beaches. She is distant horizons with hopeful sunrises and reflective sunsets. She is ice-heaved shorelines in the middle of January and ten foot tall crashing waves on rocky cliffs in October. She is the tributaries and coastal wetlands of her watershed. She is an inland sea with many faces and countless moods.

Please follow our adventures and get to know Gitchi Gumee a little better… and along the way, our special young men.

*If you paddle your kayak fast and you can take some shortcuts, you can make it around in about two months…trust me.

Ian Karl – Experiential Programming Coordinator for Northwest Passage

 

[FAG id=55961]

Building Character with Marshmallows!

Building marshmallow towers, building character, just another day at Prairieview

It is easy to take for granted the power of character and how we develop the very mental and moral qualities special to each of us, but here at Passage we work every single day to nurture healthy “characters.”

Each week, the ladies at Prairieview participate in “Character Development” group. The group teaches the girls about 14 character traits, such as respect, honesty, integrity, compassion, empathy, perseverance, tolerance and character. The goal of the group is to educate and inspire the girls to treat one another with respect and kindness. The group also educates them on the difference between inevitable conflict and bullying – a core theme of the group. The girls participate in group discussion, team building exercises, projects, activities, and even have take away work to reflect on their experiences.

Recently, the girls had a team exercise to wrap up the latest cycle of their group. The challenge was to build the tallest structure their group could in just 12 minutes! Each group was allowed: spaghetti noodles, different sized marshmallows, and 1 object of their choice to build their tower. The structures had to be free standing. Each group approached the challenge differently, but they were all successful in collaborating and practicing the traits they have learned about!

Brittany Bosak – Prairieview Teacher

WANT TO HELP OUR TEACHERS DO MORE IN THE CLASSROOM? CONSIDER A DONATION TODAY!

SHARE

Exploring Robotics through Trial and Error

THE ASSESSMENT KIDS DIVE INTO LEGOS, MINDCRAFT, SCIENCE, AND MORE!

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 Code.org 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.

SHARE

Pin It on Pinterest