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Bianca Valles

Bianca Valles on the Path for youth

December 22nd, 2015 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

Bianca grew up in Mount Vernon and graduated from Mount Vernon High School. She participated in North Cascades Wild, a precursor to our Youth Leadership Adventures program, during the summer of 2009.

“I can still remember all the emotions I went through when I got that phone call saying I was accepted to go on this trip.” Bianca recalls. “Pure shock, excitement, anticipation, and wonder overcame me. But once I actually got to go on the trip, my whole point of view of the world changed and many doors opened up for me.”

The following summer, Bianca went on to participate in a 3-week Watershed Ecology program in the Copper River Delta of Chugach National Forest, Alaska. In 2011, she returned to the North Cascades to attend the Youth Leadership Conference. All of these steps symbolize our concept of helping to nurture a “Path for Youth,” repeated experiences in the outdoors that reinforce and build upon each other

“Once I viewed the beauty of the North Cascades, I realized something,” she says. “I actually want to help preserve this captivating place for many future generations.”

Bianca had a very surprising opportunity to do just that, in a very literal way. When the Goodall Wildfire blew up in the Newhalem Gorge, it began spreading towards our Environmental Learning Center. Two fire crews were called in, including Bianca working on the North Zone fire engine for Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

“It was amazing returning to North Cascades Institute not as a wide-eyed student just starting to learn about nature and stewardship,” she explains, “but as a wildlands firefighter working for the USFS. It really felt like coming full circle, and I don’t think I’d be where I am today without those early experiences with the Institute.”

Bianca is a student at the Evergreen State College about to obtain her dual major in Cultural and Environmental Studies. She hopes to travel to third world countries in order to teach English and raise awareness about the impacts that different groups of people have on their environments and how we all connect to the natural world and each other.

YLC (1 of 1)

Youth Leadership Conference 2015 in the North Cascades; now accepting applications

September 3rd, 2015 | Posted by in Institute News

Applications for our 2015 Youth Leadership Conference are now being accepted! The conference is held at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center November 6-8 and is open to students ages 14-22 who are alumni of our youth programs, including Youth Leadership Adventures, Mountain School, Kulshan Creek Neighborhood Youth, and Concrete Summer Learning Adventure.

YLC (1 of 1)-6

Information and application at Due date is Friday, October 2nd!

2012 YLC ©Jess Newley (2 of 5)

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Student learn leadership, love of nature on trips in North Cascades

July 24th, 2015 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

By Jessi Loerch for the Everett Herald

Kang Pu stood at the back of a boat in a narrow, winding canyon off Ross Lake. Before him, a group of adults waited to hear his story. Kang, 16, began by saying he had been in the United States for just a year, he was still working on his English, and that it was hard for him to speak in front of a group.

His story, his eagerness to learn and his poise blew his listeners away.

Kang is from Burma. His mother died when he was young. At 13, he went to work in Malaysia to help support his family. While working, he missed his family and he wasn’t able to attend school. Getting an education was a priority for Kang, but he knew it was going to be hard in Burma.

Kang moved to Washington with his uncle’s family. He misses his family and his country, but he is getting an education at Foster High School in Tukwila.

He was in the North Cascades for Youth Leadership Adventures, offered through the North Cascades Institute.

The program takes kids, most of whom have little experience with the outdoors, backpacking or canoeing in the North Cascades in hopes of instilling a love and appreciation for wild places.

The students are racially diverse; many come from low-income families and, if they choose to attend college, will be the first in their families to do so. None of them know each other when they start the program.

That doesn’t last long, said Nika Meyers, the lead instructor on the trip. The trip Kang attended was eight days long. There were nine students and three youth leadership field instructors.

The group hiked a total of more than 30 miles carrying heavy packs. They helped with trail maintenance and learned how to treat water and cook in the backcountry. Along the way, they learned leadership skills and lessons about the natural environment.

» Continue reading Student learn leadership, love of nature on trips in North Cascades


Youth Leadership Adventures getting ready…

June 18th, 2015 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

The energy of our youth programs is shifting to Youth Leadership Adventures as staff are preparing to lead 100 high school students in the North Cascades backcountry to canoe, backpack, camp and complete service projects while receiving hands-on training in outdoor leadership, field science and public speaking. Last we checked, Kate, Matt & Co. were packing 924 backcountry meals, Chinese Teapots Wholesale Chinese Teapots Amber Spiral Bracelets
which includes 42 pounds of granola, 68 pounds of peanut butter and 330 pounds of trail mix. Yum.



NEWS FLASH: We still have a few spaces left in our 16-day Science and Sustainability courses this summer for students ages 16-18 from Washington and Oregon. The trip takes place July 15-30! Apply online at Full scholarships available!





Path for Youth: Emma Ewert

May 12th, 2015 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

Fifteen year after attending North Cascades Institute’s Mountain School at Newhalem, Emma Ewert is coming full circle. This fall, she will join our fifteenth cohort in the Masters of Environmental Education degree program and teaching Mountain School!

Emma attended Mountain School with her 5th grade classroom from Lopez Elementary School, where her father Greg Ewert was a teacher.

“We were at the Newhalem campground and what I remember most is the rain,” she recalls. “It rained a lot and we were outside most of the time, yet we still had so much fun.”

Emma still remembers learning the names of Cascadia’s native trees, and today can point out a Western hemlock or Douglas fir. She also recalls learning the cultural history of many plants, such as nettles, and how enthusiastic the instructors were.

She felt comfortable at Mountain School because of a lifetime spent exploring the outdoors with her family, including frequent trips to the North Cascades and Olympic Peninsula.

“It is so important to get kids to learn where they come from, what we have here,” she says. “If we don’t understand what we have, it is easier to not to take care of it. Making decisions about sustainability and conservation is much easier if you have already learned to love it.  This is especially important since we are so urban these days.”

Later on, Emma left Lopez Island to study international development abroad. She returned back to Lopez when her father got cancer and, with her mom and two sisters, made the most of his last nine months, spending precious time together.

In his last days, Greg received notes from a broad spectrum of students, friends and colleagues who said over and over how inspired they were by him as a teacher and mentor. Every fall, he took his students camping in the Olympics, and this stuck with his students too.

Emma enjoyed the special time with her father until he passed away in August 2012.

Considering her next move, she wondered how to combine the elements of the things she loves — education, being with kids outdoors, learning about nature – and her earlier Mountain School experiences kept coming up.

“I realized that it is in these moments – backpacking, camping, loving the outdoors ‑ when I am the happiest, so why not figure out how to do this as a job?” Emma explained. “Plus, doing this work keeps me connected to my father, getting to pass a love for the outdoors on to kids continues his legacy.”

Offered in partnership with Huxley College of the Environment at Western Washington University, North Cascades Institute’s M.Ed. residency program prepares students in all aspects of environmental education while living among the towering peaks of the North Cascades at the Environmental Learning Center on Diablo Lake. In the first year of the program, students take classes on teaching strategies, natural history and curriculum development – skills that they are able to instantly put in to practice through teaching 5th through 12th grade students in Mountain School.

“I was drawn to the Institute’s M.Ed. program because it is really experiential and hands-on,” Emma says. “Sure, there are classes too, but you’re also immediately doing something with this information. I’m just really excited to get up there and start the program!”

Fifteen years after learning about native plants and glaciers in the rain as a Mountain School student, Emma will return to the North Cascades this summer, as a teacher, as a graduate student and as a proud daughter carrying forward her father’s legacy of education and loving the great outdoors.


Path for Youth: Indira Mejia-Chavez

April 29th, 2015 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

Indira Mejia-Chavez was born in Mexico, but her mom raised her and her two younger siblings in the Skagit valley, where she lives today. Her first experience with North Cascades Institute was in 2004 when she attended Mountain School with her fifth grade class. Now 21, Indira still has a vivid memory of that first experience with North Cascades Institute.

“Mountain School was a whole new world I’d never seen before…and it was pretty cool,” she remembers. “We were exposed to a natural setting, we made our own bracelets, tasted healthy food that we didn’t know could be made (because you know, it has to be bad for you to taste so good)!”

She recalls how going to Mountain School brought everyone in her class together more. The cliques that were already starting to form in her class were broken up by the trail groups; everyone was able to mesh together and bond.

And her favorite activity at Mountain School? Water quality testing!

“I really liked putting two and two together,” she explains, “if the water isn’t producing animals, then the water isn’t good quality. It just made sense. I still remember the guy that was leading us told me, ‘You’re very smart, you could be a scientist.’”

For a time, Indira thought she wanted to be a community police officer, but she realized that she wants to do something she loves, and share that love with others. Her current academic and career plans are at the intersection of biology, teaching, and water quality. Although she is taking a break from school after several terms at Western Washington University, her current academic and career plans are at the intersection of biology, teaching, and water

Although Indira’s initial experience with Mountain School made a big impression, she didn’t stop there. In 2009, she participated in North Cascades Institute’s North Cascades Wild program. Two years later she was back at the Institute for our Cascades Climate Challenge program (the two programs are now combined into our Youth Leadership Adventures program).

Between the two courses, Indira spent over a month in the backcountry of the North Cascades pushing herself to overcome the challenges that everyone experiences when placed far outside their comfort zone and the familiarity of home and family.

“When I went on North Cascades Wild,” she says, “I spent a lot of time focusing on the negative – this is so hard, I wish we’d take a break – I complained a lot! With Cascades Climate Challenge, I knew what to expect and didn’t want to miss out on anything. It was so beautiful and I didn’t want to get distracted. I grew so much from the opportunity to lead others.”

» Continue reading Path for Youth: Indira Mejia-Chavez