Academic Overview

Rigorous Curriculum

Academic rigor is a key component of Northern Waters. Students have daily opportunities to engage in rigorous learning experiences in all of the core subjects to prepare them for lifelong learning and success.  Like all schools in Wisconsin, students must meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) and are responsible for learning the Wisconsin Common Core Academic Standards.

Core Subject Integration

 Core subjects (English, Science, Social Studies, Math) and non-core subjects (art, music, cooking, physical education, etc.) are learned and experienced through Advisor and Student-led project projects. Students apply their knowledge outside the four walls of the classroom through projects and learning experiences that explore Hayward’s community and natural environment. 

Although not every project incorporates every subject, throughout their time at Northern Waters, students gain knowledge and understanding through projects that integrate a variety of subjects. 


NWES students tapping trees for sap  NWES Students at a information table  NWES Students building fire  NWES Students skimming water

Independent Learning Projects (ILPs)

 Through the student-led projects like ILPs, students propose, research, and take action on projects designed to meet Wisconsin state standards. Students play an active role in choosing topics of interest and aligning their projects with learning targets. Below are examples of student developed topics, essential questions, and products, all key components of a successful ILP.


Academic Overview Graphic: Protecting Pollinators, Athletic Fitness, Sustainable Energies

Seminar Projects

 Seminar projects provide a link between the classroom and the field, and allow students to see the relevance in their learning. Below is an example of how core subjects and field inquiry have been integrated to form a seminar project at Northern Waters.


Academic Overview Graphic: Winter Surviva

Field Program

At Northern Waters, students learn outdoors at least once a week. Unlike field trips, students are not passively receiving information. On field days, students work on projects that make a difference in the community and are closely connected with classroom projects. Through the exploration of our community’s rich natural resources, students gain an understanding of the balance between wise use of natural resources and the need for community and economic growth.


See the “Field Program Overview” tab for more information.


ALEKS math

At Northern Waters, we use the adaptive learning program called ALEKS math that allows students to learn math at their own pace. Students work independently online, with advisor support and guidance, to achieve mastery in all required middle and high school math courses.


Aleks Math Image


From ALEKS is a research-based, online learning program that offers course products for Math, Chemistry, Statistics, and more. Rooted in 20 years of research and analytics, ALEKS is a proven, online learning platform that helps educators and parents understand each student’s knowledge and learning progress in depth, and provides the individual support required for every student to achieve mastery.



Northern Waters students are expected to complete at least one elective project each quarter. Students can take electives at the traditional Middle School or High School or learn through an elective project of their choice at Northern Waters. Elective projects can include anything from learning a new language, how to cook meals for your family, how to build furniture, how to fix bikes, reading and analyzing a novel, etc.

Students choose NWES elective projects from the list of the offered NWES electives or propose a project for advisor approval (only if students have already successfully completed a project from the given list). NWES Advisors and community members work with students to develop learning and project goals for each elective project.

Assessment & Grading

Students at Northern Waters are expected to be independent and self-motivated learners. Emphasis is placed on the quality of work and growth and mastery of concepts, skills, and understandings. Advisors and students work together to establish and meet learning expectations based on the following grading scale:



Qualities of work shown by student

Advanced (4)

  • Excellent quality of work (complete, accurate, followed directions, legible)
  • Demonstrates mastery - thorough understanding and application of concepts/skills

Proficient (3)

  • Quality work with few improvements needed

  • Demonstrates proficiency - understanding is still developing/applies. Most, but not all concepts and skills are mastered

Basic (2)

  • Work with many improvements needed

  • Demonstrates some understanding - application of skills and concepts is still developing

Minimal (1)

  • Low quality work (incomplete and/or inaccurate)

  • Demonstrates minimal understanding - shows little understanding/application of the concepts and skills involved

Give 100% effort and you will have fun and do a great job!

High School Graduation Requirements

At Northern Waters, high school students earn credit through Independent Learning Projects, teacher-led projects, ALEKS math, electives, and field days. Hayward Community School District students must earn 28 credits to graduate.  It is anticipated that students will earn more than 28 credits by the end of their career at NWES.


High school students at Northern Waters work closely with their Advisor to track credits and develop a personalized plan in order to complete all graduation requirements.

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