Alexandra Lungstrom attended nine schools before she found her ideal fit at her 10th and final choice, Northwest Passage High School, a public charter school in Coon Rapids.
“This was definitely my spot; I definitely excelled,” said Lungstrom, Northwest Passage class of 2009. “I could not find that at any other schools.”
Northwest Passage held a 20th anniversary, all-school reunion Saturday, Aug. 10, which Lungstrom attended.
Northwest Passage’s alumni primarily include students who felt a traditional, public high school setting wasn’t the best fit for them, said Peter Wieczorek, Northwest Passage director.
“Students really get to explore education in their own terms,” said Wieczorek, who has worked at the school 16 years. He’s been the director half that time.
Students have the ability to create their own learning plans at Northwest Passage, giving them more autonomy in their high school educational paths, Wieczorek said.
“Traditional schools are a little bit more rigid,” he said. “Most students have to have the same plan all the way through. We’re really looking at students’ learning styles and their interests.”
Having students work independently and help decide their curriculum helps prepare them for post-graduation, where much of what they do, regardless of what path they take, is up to them, Wieczorek said.
Students who attend Northwest Passage develop a strong connection to the school, its staff and the other students, Wieczork said.
“There are students (at the reunion) who didn’t graduate with us, but still feel the connection and want to come back,” he said.
Theresa Boisjolie, a teacher at Northwest Passage, has worked at the school the entire time it’s been open.
“I know this is what I’m supposed to be doing,” Boisjolie said. “I put my heart and soul into this place.”
The biggest change since the school launched two decades ago, she said, is the number of students.
Originally, the high school taught 75 students in three, three-hour sessions a day, Boisjolie said. There were just two classrooms. Now, the school has a capacity of 185 students and a maximum of 16 students per classroom.
Northwest Passage focuses on project-based learning, which means students identify a real-world problem and develop a solution. The school also focuses on performance-based assessments rather than using textbooks and exams to test what they’re learning.
Lungstrom said the small class sizes helped her learn, because if she had questions it was easy to get help from a teacher.
Students at Northwest Passage need to have an ambition to learn if they want to succeed, Lungstrom said.
“A lot of people think, ‘Oh, you can get here and slide through,’ and that, sadly, is more of what (traditional) public schools are than this school,” Lungstrom said. “This school will definitely show you not only what you’re capable of, but they will see when you’re not doing anything.”