Northwest Passage partners with YMCA camp

Advisory groups at Northwest Passage High School, Coon Rapids, have been going to YMCA Camp Icaghowan most weekends throughout September and October.

On the vertical challenge is Carley Swanson and Rachel Westra of Northwest Passage High School.

On the vertical challenge is Carley Swanson and Rachel Westra of Northwest Passage High School.

The purpose of the expeditions is for advisory groups to work on team building, communication and goal setting.

To accomplish these goals students participate in workshops, team building activities and a high ropes course.

In addition, students give back to the camp by participating in a service learning project such as stacking firewood for the winter, clearing trails or helping winterize the cabins, according to NWPHS Director Peter Wieczorek.

Northwest Passage High School and YMCA Camp Icaghowan in Amery, Wis., and part of the YMCA of Metropolitan Minneapolis, have a long and interconnection history.

Many schools have long histories of participating at camps that include environmental education programs, team building and leadership development.

The connection between NWPHS and Camp Icaghowan, however, goes deeper than a regular yearly visit.

Wieczorek began working as a program director at Camp Icaghowan in 1996.

Shortly after that former NWPHS Director Jamie Steckart, who at the time was working at Project Lead, a St. Paul school district alternative school, connected with Wieczorek, a longtime friend, to discuss using camp for a leadership course he was teaching.

Wieczorek and Steckart co-created a week-long leadership expedition at the camp that included team building activities focused on providing leadership opportunities, high ropes courses, workshops, simulations and service learning projects.

In 2000 Steckart moved to NWPHS, at the time Coon Rapids Learning Center, and continued along with other staff members to use Icaghowan as for leadership courses.

In 2004, after much prodding, Steckart convinced Wieczorek, a biology teacher, to join the NWPHS staff.

During the next few years the relationship with Icaghowan grew to include additional weekends at camp for service projects, winter camping events and science field studies, according to Wieczorek.

At this same time NWPHS began to grow and need more staff, Wieczorek said.

Again Steckart and Wieczorek looked to camp for experienced staff members.

“Camp staff have a unique set of youth development skills that are not always easy to come by,” Wieczorek said.

“Many students in traditional teacher preparation colleges don’t have the skills and experiences necessary to work with high school students in an alternative setting.”

Over the next couple years NWPHS hired four more former Icaghowan staff members.

“In addition to being highly qualified licensed teachers, the former camp staff understand how to create community, work with an advisory group and have the skill set needed to run the schools extensive expeditionary learning schedule,” Wieczorek said.

After years of bringing hundreds of students out to camp as participants it is beginning to come full circle, according to Wieczorek.

To date, three NWPHS students have spent at least one summer as a camp counselor and two have taken on leadership roles including trips director and assistant horse wrangler, Wieczorek said.

According to Bob Gagner, current director at Icaghowan, the long-term relationship has really paid dividends.

Wieczorek is really excited about the possibilities for even more connections, he said. “I can’t wait for the day when I get to interview a former graduate for a teaching position who spent their summers during college working at camp,” Wieczorek said. “The relationship will really have come full circle then.”

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