Why did we create Headwaters?

Students doing projects and working on topics that interest them may seem like a natural, intuitive process. 

When NWPHS teachers explain our philosophy to educators, parents or the public, we hear, “That’s so cool!” or “I wish I’d gone there.” We agree that what we are doing is cool and wish we’d had this type of high school experience ourselves. But we realized that most students aren’t prepared for this type of learning on Day One. 

In order for students to succeed, we needed to redesign the educational model.

That’s why we created Headwaters. 

How do you describe it?

Headwaters is a program for new students at Northwest Passage High School. We designed the program to help students transition from middle school into high school and, consequently, minimize the effects of 9th-grade shock. It’s built on the idea of scaffolded learning situations, exemplary project process modeling, and student risk taking.

In Headwaters, students have the luxury of an 8:1 student to staff ratio. This means lots of time to face to face with their advisor. In truth, Headwaters is made up of three advisories, led by three different advisors. While students spend most of the time with their advisor, Headwaters is a collaborative advisory with all three advisors team-teaching different skills, projects and learning experiences.

Each day in Headwaters is different. Instructors put a premium on relevance. Connecting with students individually to identify their interests (and disinterests) helps guide student choice for project creation. Additionally, Headwaters advisors help students strengthen autonomy throughout the program, offering more choice, freedom, and flexibility as they advance. 

The Headwaters program was recognized by the Minnesota Association of Alternative Programs for its innovation in helping students navigate the transition into the new world of project-based learning. 

We are proud of the work we’ve accomplished in this effort and think our students have flourished in this new system. 

In short, Headwaters is:

  • Designed to minimize 9th-grade shock
  • Three advisory-style classrooms with 8:1 student to staff ratios
  • Collaborative advisory experience
  • Focused on skill development, team-building, organization, and project management techniques
  • Increasing student choice in content and project autonomy
  • Focused on relevance: connecting project content with the world outside school, and practical application of skills

If you’d like to know more, you can check out our homepage, with links to our other programs and key features.