Northwest Passage students spend MLK Day serving others

While most high school students were sleeping in on Martin Luther King Jr. Day Jan. 21 – a school holiday in most locations – Northwest Passage High School students devoted time and energy to giving back to their community.

After a morning spent giving back to the community, Northwest Passage High School students relaxed back at the school where they listened to James Toole, president and executive director of Compass Institute, describe additional service opportunities. Photo by Sue Austreng

After a morning spent giving back to the community, Northwest Passage High School students relaxed back at the school where they listened to James Toole, president and executive director of Compass Institute, describe additional service opportunities. Photo by Sue Austreng

Some five dozen students enrolled at the Coon Rapids-based charter school spent MLK Day providing service for four different community organizations:

• ARC of Minnesota, where they sorted and organized 5,000 pounds of clothing.

• Aeon MN where they painted three levels of stairwells in an apartment complex housing formerly homeless people.

• Philadelphia Farm in Osceola, Wis. where they sorted dirt and did some planting in the greenhouse at the organic and community-based farm.

• Minnesota Literacy Council where they tested software that helps recent refugees and immigrants to the United States learn proper pronunciation of English words.

Once back on campus at Northwest Passage, the students continued giving, writing letters of gratitude and creating valentines for United States military veterans.

Words of encouragement were delivered to Northwest Passage students, who gathered in the school building to listen to presentations when their service hours had been completed.

Nick Halbert, who recently returned from two years on a Peace Corps mission to Nicaragua, spoke to the students about opportunities to serve in that capacity.

“I just want to encourage these students to continue giving of themselves and to suggest that they do that with the Peace Corps,” Halbert said after his presentation.

James Toole, president and executive director of Compass Institute, also spoke to Northwest Passage students, describing additional service opportunities.

Toole told the assembled students that the two greatest questions anyone asks themselves are “Who am I?” and “Am I going to live a life that matters?”

And as Martin Luther King Jr.’s statement – “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘What are you doing for others?’” – served as backdrop behind them, Toole said, “Everyone of you has something that’s valuable. Each of you has a spark. That may be a talent, a cause or a character trait, but each of you has something valuable that you can share like no one else can.”

Teacher, social worker and Northwest Passage Board chairwoman Deb Howard said service days are an integral part of education at the school.

The school is designed to provide students with individualized curriculum, field experiences and 21st century learning opportunities, she said.

“This is the second year we’ve done a service day on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It’s something we find very valuable and something the students seem committed to doing,” Howard said.

For more about Northwest Passage High School, visit www.nwphs.org.

Sue Austreng is at sue.austreng@ecm-inc.com

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