Northwest Passage student service learning project

Five students and two teachers from Northwest Passage High School (NWP), Coon Rapids, took part in a service learning expedition to help restore coastal Louisiana.

Members of the Northwest Passage High School group that went on a week-long service learning expedition to coastal Louisiana. From left to right, Xaria Barkley, Sandra Gustafson, Erica Olson, Theresa Boisjoile (teacher), Brandi Greer (teacher), Brittany Larsen and Lydia Rangeloff.

Members of the Northwest Passage High School group that went on a week-long service learning expedition to coastal Louisiana. From left to right, Xaria Barkley, Sandra Gustafson, Erica Olson, Theresa Boisjoile (teacher), Brandi Greer (teacher), Brittany Larsen and Lydia Rangeloff.

The week-long expedition was an all girls trip focusing on women in science, and all of the contacts for the trip were women who work in the environmental science field.

The main focus of the trip was learning about the environment by participating in service learning projects with the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana (CRCL) and working with The Nature Conservancy.

The group stayed on Grand Isle, which is a barrier island that has 1,500 residents.

Grand Isle and surrounding barrier islands have been eroding due to hurricanes and oil spills that have occurred in the area, while barrier island Grand Terre was hit especially hard by hurricanes and it is only one-third the size that it used to be.

CRCL organized a one-day event, in which the Northwest Passage group participated, called “Save Our Shore: Volunteer For The Coast.” The purpose was to help restore Grand Terre which is a barrier for Grand Isle.

The volunteer event had over 200 volunteers, with the NWP students and staff the group that traveled the farthest.

Volunteers were brought over by boat to Grand Terre and were given the task of planting Panicum which is an ideal dune plant that grows quickly and helps with soil erosion.

A student after participating in the service project said, “I have a whole new appreciation of what a barrier island is.”

The group also participated in a service project with The Nature Conservancy to help eradicate the air potato vine.

Gene Landry, who works with the Nature Conservancy and is a resident of Grand Isle, worked with NWP and explained how the air potato vine is an invasive species to Grand Isle.

When the air potato grows, it climbs over native plant life, causing the undergrowth to die, according to Landry.

The group picked over 300 pound of air potatoes.

According to Landry, the NWP group’s efforts that day were a tremendous help in getting rid of this species of plant.

Along with the service projects, the group also took part in an educational tour of New Orleans, La.

According to Peter Wieczorek, NWP director, the group’s very knowledgeable tour guide shared his extensive knowledge of the city’s amazing and very interesting history.

Students shared afterwards the tour was one of their favorite parts of the expedition, Wieczorek said.

The group also went to Memphis, Tenn., on the way home and toured Graceland, home of Elvis Presley.

By participating in the expedition, the girls learned a new appreciation for what an invasive species is, the importance of barrier islands and how important it is to be a good steward of the land, Wieczorek said.

Reflecting on the trip after the group returned to school, a student wrote, “This will be knowledge I will never forget because I was there to experience everything hands on.”

“Volunteering with CRCL Save Our Shore and The Nature Conservancy makes me want to find more environmental volunteer opportunities I could do in Minnesota because everyone knows the people in this world are treating our environment very badly and we will lose our vital resources if we don’t help.”

Another student said, “Beyond all of the great experiences and awesome people and new friends, this trip helped me find a little piece of myself, which to me, is really what traveling is all about.

“I appreciate beyond words being one of the lucky few picked to participate in this expedition.”

Northwest Passage is planning on going back next year with a plan to make connections with the local school, environmental scientists and participate in more service projects to help with coastal restoration, according to Wieczorek.

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