Students set aside books to learn on the Gulf Coast

Staff Writer
Since 2013, I have primarily covered the Anoka-Hennepin and Spring Lake Park school districts as well as the city of Spring Lake Park for ABC Newspapers.

Ecology. Economics. History.

Northwest Passage students cleaned up the invasive air potato plant on Grand Isle, Louisiana. Front: Grace Lukkason and Chloe Ladwig; back: Jean Landry with The Nature Conservancy, Kendra Brekke, Grace Poff, Desarae Coleman, Frances Rubesch and Melissa Munson. Photo submitted
Northwest Passage students cleaned up the invasive air potato plant on Grand Isle, Louisiana. Front: Grace Lukkason and Chloe Ladwig; back: Jean Landry with The Nature Conservancy, Kendra Brekke, Grace Poff, Desarae Coleman, Frances Rubesch and Melissa Munson. Photo submitted

Seven young women, all students at Northwest Passage High School, learned about these topics and more on an expedition to the Gulf Coast earlier this year.

Northwest Passage, a charter school in Coon Rapids, requires students to take their learning outside of the classroom on trips within and outside of Minnesota, but it is unusual for students to take the same trip twice.

Senior Chloe Ladwig did a lot of advance legwork to convince staff to allow her to take the Gulf Coast trip a second time as a teaching assistant.

Hoping to pursue a career as a project manager in graphic design, Ladwig sought a way to gain leadership experience before heading off to Columbia College in Chicago later this year.

“Everybody gets different things out of it,” Ladwig said of the trip. “It can really change your perspective on how the world works.”

The Gulf Coast expedition started five years ago as a way to expose young women to careers in science.

Northwest Passage students made up one of the first groups to come in and clean up invasive species on Grand Isle.

The air potato plant, a native plant in parts of Asia, was brought to the island in the late 1960s, early 1970s, and since then it has grown abundantly, choking out species in the small maritime forest, according to Brandi Greer, a teacher at Northwest Passage who led the trip with Theresa Boisjolie.

The plant’s damage to other plants has had an effect on the bird population, as the forest is important stop in global transatlantic migration, Greer said.

Helping clear the air potato plant provides a service learning opportunity that has continued each year of the trip, though the itinerary has changed ever so slightly year after year.

“It’s evolved into a cultural exchange,” Greer said.

On Grand Isle, Northwest Passage students meet with fourth- and fifth-graders at the local elementary school to share about life in Minnesota and hear about life on the Bayou.

The last couple of years, Northwest Passage students have been invited to feast with students before presentations. Bowls of fresh crab and shrimp brought in by fishermen’s families are different than the typical school lunch in Minnesota.

“It has become this really important thing to the kids and families,” Greer said.

In addition to learning about the coastal environment and industries that fuel the southern lifestyle, students studied history in New Orleans’ French Quarter and at the Whitney Plantation and National Civil Rights Museum on the way back to Minnesota.

Lessons were more compelling than any that could come from history books, Greer and Ladwig agreed.

Traveling in late January when women’s marches were happening across the country, Ladwig said her visit to the National Civil Rights Museum had a different tenor this time around.

“It’s a lot more moving and really kind of resonates with you more,” she said.

Northwest Passage students will showcase what they have learned on expeditions at the annual Explore Your World fundraiser later this spring.

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