Grand Prize Winner
Kaitlin Beard, Avneet Singh, Olga Rossovska, Michael Carlucci, Jennifer Casale, Walter Garcia, Alessandra Silvestro
Registered Early Childhood Educators, Humber Child Development Centre
Support Staff, Aboriginal Resource Centre/Environmental Stewardship Coordinator, Humber Arboretum
Professor, Early Childhood Education, Faculty of Health Sciences and Wellness
Anne Corkery has taught grade 6/7 (French Immersion) with PVNCCDSB for four years now. She has always felt most at home in nature. She grew up playing games and building forts in the woodlot behind her house, and would spend hours in a nearby creek turning over rocks to find critters to look at. Today, much of her spare time is spent running the trails which surround her city.
Before becoming a teacher, she worked as an ecologist, studying the predicted impacts of climate change on migratory species in the sub-Arctic. This experience ignited within her a desire to connect with younger generations to instill within them a deep love for the natural word, as she believes this is our best chance at protecting it from the many threats it is currently facing. She has made environmental inquiry a priority in all of her classrooms up until this point, each year gaining momentum and inspiration for new projects with her students. These projects have resulted in the revitalization of recycling programs at her school, gardening projects, sustainable transportation initiatives, growing of traditional medicines in our classroom for our school’s medicine wheel garden, and most recently, the making of their very own urban maple syrup. These projects have all been a result of her students’ personal interests, the end products of which are largely determined by them.
Grand Prize Winner
Jen is a Grade 2 Teacher at Lakeside P.S., YRDSB, in Keswick, Ontario. Her Principal, Kim Smith, nominated her this spring, when Jen lead the Primary Division in a “Water Inquiry with an Indigenous Perspective”. Jen used Natural Curiosity 2nd Edition as a mentor text and sought guidance from YRDSBs First Nations, Metis and Inuit Curriculum and Student Advisors throughout this project. On March 22, 2018 – coincidentally the beginning of UN’s Decade for Action for Water Sustainability – FNMI Curriculum Advisor, Towana Brooks, and FNMI Student Advisor, Hayley Williamson, shared their stories and songs about the reciprocal connection we all share with water; taught Primary staff how to make beaded copper-pot necklaces inspired by Water Walker Josephine Mandamin; and how to sing “The Nibi/Water Song” Song in Ojibwe. Over two hundred students from Kindergarten to Grade 3 inquired about Lake Simcoe – their source of drinking water – walked to the lake, and investigated social justice issues and ways to protect Lake Simcoe. At our celebration with families, the children sang “The Nibi Song” in Ojibwe wearing their copper-pot inspired necklaces, did hands-on investigations about water and took pledges to conserve water. Jen has worked at Vivian Outdoor Centre, and was instrumental in facilitating the partnership between Ontario Parks, MNR and YRDSB to open Sibbald Point Outdoor Education Centre in Sibbald Point Provincial Park, where she also taught. She published “The Water Game” in Green Teacher Magazine and “Teaching Green” book. Jen has built capacity for Ontario Educators by writing and teaching Environmental and Outdoor Education courses for Nipissing University, York University and currently the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario. Jen has an Honours BA double major in Environmental Studies and Indigenous Studies from Trent University.
Grand Prize Winner
Alicia Belvedere has been teaching for the Toronto District School Board since 2007. She believes that igniting environmental stewardship in students begins with providing opportunities to explore, get excited about and ultimately fall in love with nature. Her journey to live a happier and healthier life by deepening her connection to nature inspired Alicia to encourage her students to foster their own love of the earth. At High Park Alternative School, there is a community of amazing staff and parents that work together to create exciting learning experiences. Without the support of her community, Alicia would not be able to bring her class’s inquiries to the heights to which her students aim to take them. These projects include sewing a quilt that celebrates our natural resources, dedicating half a day each week to exploring Toronto’s biggest urban park, setting up a woodworking station in the classroom, growing food in and outside the classroom, surveying a number of Toronto parks for their data management unit, visiting conservation areas, and participating in an ecological restoration program. Alicia looks forward to continuing her own environmental education to better foster her students’ curiosity in our natural world.
Grand Prize Winner
Ellie Clin is an environmentally-inspired classroom educator at The Grove Community School in Toronto, the first public alternative elementary school with a commitment to teaching the curriculum through the lenses of social justice, community activism, and environmentalism.
Ellie and her students have learned through a variety of place-based and global environmental inquiries over the years. From partnering with organizations such as the StopGap Foundation or the Toronto Region Conservation Authority; to engaging in long-term artistic studies of the life in their school yard; to planting vegetables for community meals in the garden, they strive to learn more about and become stewards for the local environment. And, by investigating Antarctic wildlife through Ellie’s expedition as a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow; tagging and tracking monarch butterfly migration; and creating environmental short films for the Planet In Focus student film festival, they also engage in making connections with the wider global community.
Grand Prize Winner
Two years ago, Cathy Dykstra made a dramatic switch to her grade 6 classroom. It became the home of the “Water Rockers”. Thanks to a Y.S.A./State Farm of America grant to help get things off the ground, she and her students began to learn about water.
Their class motto is “ERIN: OUR LOCAL WATER ROCKS!” They learn about the water cycle and about world water issues and what countries are doing about them. They research about oceans and the impact that humans are having on ocean life. They investigate their local water supply. They learn about how much water it takes to make our food, clothing, and other items around us. They read facts about plastic water bottles and reusable bottles. They estimate how much water they use every day and they discover how to conserve water at school, at home, and in the community. The students have been so enthusiastic and engaged that water has taken over their reading, writing, math, science, and art activities. They also have local water “experts” come into their classroom, work with them in the school yard, and conduct experiments with them down by the local river.
In the school, they make daily morning announcements, put on presentations for other classrooms, post their research on bulletin boards and throughout the school, organize school assemblies, and write articles for the school online newsletter. Every student is assigned a leadership role. After two years, they have persuaded 90% of the staff and students at Erin P.S. to use reusable bottles every day.
Cathy has also partnered with the local BIA, with a group of parents from the school, and with the environmental leaders from “Transition Erin”. Once a month, with their bright blue Water Rocker t-shirts and reusable bottles, she takes her class downtown to talk to the local store owners about their ongoing research, about water conservation, and about the importance of valuing customers who carry reusable bottles into their stores. Her students have persuaded 100% of the downtown stores to join the “Blue W” program.
In the community, her Water Rocker students write weekly newspaper articles for the local paper, and they make presentations at local Town Council meetings, at Transition Erin meetings, at church services, and at community events like Celebrate Erin. They have even been on the local radio. This has noticeably strengthened the school and community relationship and has given her students amazing experiences. Her class even organized a $5000 community fundraiser to help the Town Council install water bottle refilling stations in two of the local arenas.
Cathy just recently completed co-writing a Water Rockers curriculum document with Marc Mailhot to share with other schools and school boards. Her Water Rockers initiative has already spread to two other schools in the Orangeville area. She has helped to train other teachers in her board and in the States with a Y.S.A. Webinar about teaching through inquiry, across subjects, and organizing school/community initiatives. Last year, her Water Rockers program won $25,000 for her school in a Staples/Earth Day Canada contest.
Having a real life, student-directed, inquiry-based program full of leadership opportunities has thoroughly engaged her students and helped them to thrive as learners. The students have gained self-confidence and social skills such as public speaking, shaking hands, and making eye contact. They feel knowledgeable, capable, and valued by both the school and community.
As Cathy has discovered in her 23 years of teaching, it really is vital for all students of all ages to feel that they can have a positive impact on the world. By becoming compassionate, knowledgeable global citizens, her Water Rockers really are making a difference…one drop of water at a time!
Grand Prize Winner
In the Spring of 2012, Petra Eperjesi watched a video about an Outdoor Kindergarten in Norway. She watched it again. It so stuck with her that in the Spring of 2012, when the Kindergarten program at her school, Tawingo College, in Huntsville, Ontario, was in flux, she pitched the idea that they should start an Outdoor Kindergarten program, and that she should dream it, design it, breathe life into it.
Now, in the Spring of 2014, Petra has led that program to the end of its second successful year. Her students have traipsed all over Tawingo’s 270 acres in rain, shine, sleet, and snow (and blackflies). They’ve mapped the shoreline, built a teepee, been stuck in bogs, climbed to the top of Eagle Mountain, shared stories in their tree house, jumped creeks, made nests… They are confident, resilient, compassionate, and deeply inquisitive, all because of the extensive time they spend outdoors in play and exploration. Petra models curiosity and stewardship for her young students, and is constantly seeking to improve her inquiry-based and child-centered teaching practice through reflection, collaboration, and voracious reading.
Olivier St-Hilaire & Kimberly Clark
Grand Prize Winner
Teachers at Herb Campbell Public School in Caledon, Olivier St-Hilaire and Kimberly Clark, are exceptional teachers who infuse their practice with environmental and sustainability education – integrating nature and inquiry into their daily teaching. Co-founding the Herb Campbell Environmental Council, their goal was to share what they were doing and highlight all of the opportunities that could be found right in their own schoolyard. They strive, continually, to instill a deep respect and care for the environment and to expose students to the learning that happens in a classroom without walls. Their environmental initiatives now include waste minimization, energy conservation, and ecological literacy. The largest focus is the school ground greening projects designed specifically for learning through direct contact with nature.
Grand Prize Winner
With a range of diverse teaching experience spanning twenty years, Stephen is an exemplary teacher who integrates inquiry-based learning and environmental issues with passion and insight. Stephen studied under David Sobel, focusing on using the outdoors as a resource to engage students, and also taught in international programs involving the integration of ecosystem study with curriculum areas. Stephen has also worked to integrate literacy programs with advocacy, supporting students’ understanding that reading and writing are powerful tools and encouraging involvement in issues and debates. Combined with a deep commitment to environmental issues, Stephen is an outstanding role model for students in caring for our environment.
A teacher at Devonshire Community Public School in Ottawa, Ontario, Stephen is an active participant in their school ground greening project, which includes an organic garden and outdoor classroom and is now integrated with learning about local food sources and healthy eating. After Mr. Skoutajan’s students built an herb spiral in their outdoor garden and established a composting and recycling program, they became interested in local food options and municipal waste and recycling programs. His students also explored issues of biodiversity along the Trans-Canada trail, investigating nearby marshes and interviewing locals (activists, farmers, educators) and provincial candidates, and connected this to their understanding of electoral issues.
Grand Prize Winner
Monique is a true champion of Environmental Education, and has worked tirelessly to establish and promote an eco-friendly culture within her school community – part of the Lakehead District School Board. Monique felt the need to connect students, their parents, and the broader community to a sustainable environmental project that would expose everyone to experiential learning. This community project was fulfilled through the building, growing and maintaining of a school garden that became a community undertaking. Every year, Monique uses the garden as a focal point to encourage inquiry-based learning from her Grade 5/6 class. They integrated the garden into their studies of math, science, and health.
Ms. Menard’s class actively participates in many garden initiatives in the community, including preparing and cooking fresh rhubarb cake (made with rhubarb from the garden) for the school’s family picnic. Monique inspires to develop in her students a deep understanding of food and food productions systems. On top of introducing her students to cooking with locally grown food, she also gave them the opportunity to explore local businesses and food production when she took them to a local flour mill and egg farm to obtain the ingredients they would need for their recipe.
Belfountain Public School
Grand Prize Winner
Written by: Bryan Bibby-Smith, Janice Haines, & Lynn Bibby-Smith – How does vermi-composting, invasive insect species, and the scientific method become a meaningful learning experience for a class? It all began with a bin full of worms. Three years ago, the students and staff at the Belfountain Public School, nestled away in the hills of Caledon, Ontario, initiated a vermi-composting program. It was just another slice that makes up the whole of their E.C.O. school program (Environmental, Conservation and Outdoor Education). The worm castings, or worm poop produced was great for the school’s gardens, but could it translate into a grade on a report card? That question lead the teachers to look at their curriculum not in terms of units, with clearly defined beginnings and ends, but rather from an inquiry-based approach. It all starts with a question. The school gardens are thriving and the worms are happily composting, now what do we do with all of this worm poo? The grade four class took the lead. They researched its benefits, problem-solved how best to prepare and package it, corroborated with the School Community Council to promote it and finally used marketing skills to sell it as a school fund-raiser, collecting money for a schoolyard greening project. And all of their hard work was assessed and recorded by their teacher. Wanting to include members of this close-knit community in the decision-making process for the schoolyard planning, partnerships were struck with the school community council, the CVC (Credit Valley Conservation), the Ontario Stream Organization, and the Ministry of Natural Resources.