Seven Columbia Basin Educators Recognized

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Last week, CBEEN’s Awards of Excellence recognized seven outstanding local educators from across the Columbia Basin region for their efforts in educating students and the public on environmental stewardship and sustainability.

“The 2024 award winners include early years, elementary, post-secondary, and community educators. All are committed to creating opportunities for people to connect with, learn about, and learn from our amazing local environment” said Mia King, Program Manager for the Columbia Basin Environmental Education Network (CBEEN). “We are grateful for their dedication to bringing outdoor learning opportunities for students, professionals, and community members throughout the Columbia Basin.”

CBEEN’s 2024 Awards of Excellence in Environmental Education were awarded to:

  • Post-Secondary Educator – Allison Lutz (Nelson/Castlegar)
  • Intermediate Teacher – Dylan Dainard (Invermere)
  • Early Years Educator – Emma Shaw (Invermere)
  • Community Educator – Jessie King (Invermere)
  • Primary Teacher – Katie Niddrie (Windermere)
  • Community Educator –Kim Urbaniak (Kimberley)
  • Intermediate Teacher – Ricki Thomson (Cranbrook)

Post-secondary educator Allison Lutz said, “I am incredibly grateful for this recognition from CBEEN. I feel so fortunate to be able to work in environmental education with impassioned students and dedicated colleagues in the beautiful Columbia Basin.  Teaching and learning about nature is hopeful and empowering for all involved, it instills a sense of wonder and inspires us all to keep up the work of being environmental stewards and advocates.”

Katie Niddrie, primary teacher at Windermere Elementary School said, “I am flattered to have received this award and I don’t feel like I deserve it because I feel like I am fairly new to outdoor learning (been doing it consistently for only the last 3 years). However, in my short experience with weekly outdoor time with my students, I have grown to enjoy and appreciate the value of this time immensely. I see students thrive in an outdoor and unstructured environment that would otherwise struggle in the classroom setting. I have seen peers connect in different ways than usual and I have learned to recognize the importance of good ol’ time in nature and learning beyond the 4 walls of the classroom. This past year, I helped to plan and facilitate 6 whole school, full day field trips to 2 familiar locations in our area (3 visits to each) as an initiative to get our students and staff to think and learn more about indigenous ways of knowing and being. My question to our school community was “How do we connect to the land?” and “Why is this land important?” It brought us all more gratitude for the beautiful place we live in and for the history and ways of our local Secwépmec Peoples, Ktunaxa Peoples, and Métis peoples of BC.

Four of the seven educators were recognized during an awards ceremony at the 2024 Outdoor Learning Conference held in Banff May 9-11, 2024.

For more information, contact Mia King, CBEEN Program Manager:

Three 2024 CBEEN EE Award winners at the Outdoor Learning Conference, Banff, Alberta. (L-R, Ricki Thomson, Jessie King, Allison, Lutz).


Allison Lutz (Nelson/Castlegar) – Allison is an incredible student-first educator. She has been working at Selkirk College, having taught human geography, hydrology, maps, and navigation. She brings her A game to each and every lesson. She is a kind, caring community member and many have gained from her thoughtfulness. Allison inspires the rest of the faculty to give and provide quality education with humour and relevant, current content. Not only does she teach at the college, but she also volunteers on the sustainability committee and has been active with Friends of Kootenay Lake for over a decade. She goes the extra mile with students and inspires them to contribute in a larger way. The one word that Allison’s nominator used to describe her is “Glowing”!

Dylan Dainard (Invermere) – Dylan’s first experience as an environmental educator was when he has 14 years old and was a snowboarding instructor – merging his passion for the sport with his stewardship mindset. As a teacher, Dylan has mentored thousands of students and dozens of colleagues through his environmental education teaching practices. A standout collaboration is where he organized and Environmental Education Science Fair for all the Grade 7 students to participate in and showcase their learning to all the other students in the school and guest students from many neighboring schools. Furthermore, Dylan collaborates with local Indigenous elders and has taken his students tree planting with community partner, The Nature Conservancy of Canada. Dylan’s lasting positive impact through his environmental education work within the Columbia Basin is that students and colleagues alike have learned to be stewards of the land through his daily modeling. They have learned to be curious about what is around them and to feel empowered that they can take action and make a positive impact on their environment. The one word that Dylan’s nominator used to describe him is “thoughtful”!

Emma Shaw (Invermere) – Emma is an Early Childhood Educator that takes her class on many adventures in and around Little Badgers which is located on the Akisqnuk First Nations Land. One of the stops on their adventures is visiting an Elder who lives close to the centre. They bring her crate, treats, or treasures they may have found in their adventures. This has been a great way for the children to connect to the Akisqnuk community and to learn the importance of understanding an appreciating the local land. Emma has also embraced bringing the Ktunaxa Language into the classroom. The students learn the word of the week, and sing songs which incorporates the language. The one word that Emma’s nominator used to describe her is “passionate”!

Jessie King (Invermere) – Jessie has been a Wildsight educator for 6 years. A thoughtful, reflective, and creative educator, Jessie has been involved in curriculum development and delivery of programs for students from primary through secondary levels. She has a passion for food security, sustainable water management, and for deeply connecting kids to the wild. She is creative and excels at building engaging and inspiring lessons and activities for learners. Jessie has also made an immense contribution to Groundswell Community Greenhouse and Gardens and the Columbia Valley through her impact on the hundreds of students whose lives she has opened to the wonders and possibilities of nature. As a mentor, just one of Jessie’s programs is leading 180 students and their teachers, from JA Laird Elementary School, to plan, plant, care for, harvest, and preserve using permaculture methods. The 90 students in the program last year donated over 500 kg of fresh organically grown produce to the Columbia Valley Food Bank. The one word that Jessie’s nominator used to describe her is “enlightening”!

Katie Niddrie (Windermere) – Katie, a teacher at Windermere Elementary School, pitched the idea of whole school field trips to her coworkers and convinced them that this was a worthwhile and valid idea. This is no easy feat!  She helped teachers select books, resources, and plan curricular connections. When conflicts arose due to adult ratios, Katie was the first to rally the team and find parent volunteers to make it happen. Katie was driven by the word EQUITY and wanted all students to have the same experience, no matter what the challenge (clothing, gear, food, volunteers, permission forms, etc.). What Katie organized was a whole school field trip experience for all K-7 students, selecting two areas for the students to visit all together, and then revisit those locations 3 more times throughout the year. In this way, students would become connected to the land, as they experienced it not once, but four times throughout the year. Students experienced seasonal changes and explored the land through various curricular lenses, while learning to identify local plants, and animals, landforms. Students saw artifacts and evidence of local first nations groups, and deepened their understanding of what it means to be on unceded territories and be guests on the land. The one word that Katie’s nominator used to describe her is “leader”!

Kim Urbaniak (Kimberley) – Kim has an amazing wealth of experience being an environmental educator. Currently being an Educator with Wildsight, Kim teaches Beyond Recycling, Nature through the Season, Know Your Watershed and developing the McGinty Lake Education program (in partnership with Meadowbrook Community Association). Kim has also helped develop the Kimberley Outdoor Learning Society, where she has created an amazing suite of outdoor learning programs for families and kids in Kimberley. Kim also coordinates and instructs the very popular “Camp Odyssey” summer camp in Kimberley and Cranbrook, which provides children from 5-12, opportunities to explore the outdoors while learning and having fun! Kim was also a huge part of Mainstreams Environmental Society Education team, the famous “stream trailer”, and many amazing water-based education programs. She has worked with 1000’s of students with the many organizations she has worked with and her passion, enthusiasm, and positive outlook for getting kids learning outdoors has been very impactful. Kim has truly supported teachers in getting students learning and exploring their natural world and inspiring a future generation of environmental stewards. The one word that Kim’s nominator used to describe her is “Passionate”!

Ricki Thomson (Cranbrook) – Ricki is an intermediate teacher who makes Outdoor Learning an integral part of her teaching practice, always reaching out to find out what Outdoor Environmental Education opportunities she can access for her students to create new opportunities for learning outdoors and exploring natural landscapes around Cranbrook and Kimberley. She weaves environmental outdoor and indigenous perspective into her everyday teaching and strives to create new and creative way to do this. Recently, Ricki did a program where she wanted her students to explore water, plants and community with her students. The quality and richness of the program she did was amazing. The students had so many opportunities to learn outdoors, connect to place and the curriculum, explore, inquire, question, be creative, work together, and have fun, all while leaning about water, plants/trees and the importance of Biodiversity in their community and planet. Her way of teaching students in an experiential environmental practice was truly impactful. Something the kids will always remember. This is just one example of the positive impact Ricki has on her students and community over the years. The one word that Ricki’s nominator used to describe her is “Passionate”!

These CBEEN Environmental Education award of Excellence winners include community educators, along with elementary and post-secondary teachers. All are committed to creating opportunities for people to connect with, learn about, and learn from our amazing local environment in the Columbia Basin. We are grateful for their dedication to providing outdoor learning opportunities for students, professionals, and community members throughout the Columbia Basin!

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