Local Educators Recognized for Excellence

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Seven educators from the Columbia Basin have been recognized by the Columbia Basin Environmental Education Network (CBEEN) for their excellence in encouraging stewardship and sustainability through environmental education. Through their experience, collaborative efforts and mentorship, they have collectively made a deep and lasting impact on our entire region.

2019 Awards of Excellence were presented to the following educators:

  • Joe Pierre (Cranbrook/ʔaq̓am) for his mentorship in connecting Indigenous knowledge and land-based learning with students and teachers across the learning region.
  • Ingrid Liepa (Kimberley) for her leadership in climate change education and action across communities in the Columbia Basin.
  • Melissa Flint (Creston) for supporting students through a variety of programs in developing a deeper understanding of the connections between humans and the earth.
  • Kate Ruoss (Cranbrook) for building capacity for community support as a primary teacher and through her leadership with the East Kootenay Environmental Educators Association (EKEEPSA).
  • Laurie Neeve (Kimberley) for consistently leading by example as an intermediate teacher and through her leadership with the Rocky Mountain Place-based Learning Network.
  • Jenn Means (Kimberley) for her passion and willingness to share through her role as a secondary teacher and through her leadership with the Rocky Mountain Place-based Learning Network.
  • Doris Hausleitner (Castlegar) for her passion and dedication to connecting post-secondary students with the knowledge, skills and connections to be successful in the environmental field.

Award recipient, and ʔaq̓am Nasuʔkin (Chief), Joe Pierre reflected that “We never do this type of work for awards, we do it because we love the environment, we love working with youth and we love the idea of life-long learning.  For me the greatest “reward” is when a former student comes up to me and enthusiastically says, “Kiʔsuk kyukyit Mr. Pierre”, and I think to myself, “Hey that kid just spoke Ktunaxa”.

Cranbrook teacher Kate Ruoss shared that “There are wonderful educators throughout the Columbia Basin who make it a daily practice to appreciate nature and this award inspires me to continue to teach about our wonderful area.” Laurie Neeve, a teacher from Kimberley, echoed this, sharing that “I feel appreciated and motivated to press on with a little extra spark and I’m sure that all the other recipients felt the same.” And Melissa Flint, a community educator from Creston, exclaimed “I am so happy and humbled to be part of the celebration of truly inspired educators!”

These recipients are nominated by their peers and nominations are reviewed and adjudicated by a committee made up of past recipients. CBEEN Director and Awards Committee Representative, Janet Kuijt, reflected that “Being part of the CBEEN Awards of Excellence Review Committee begins as a daunting task but always leaves me inspired. It is a such a wonderful celebration of the continuous growth of environmental education in our region as well as the incredible educators who are leading these amazing initiatives.”

PHOTO 1: Recipients presented with awards at CBEEN’s Annual Gathering at Whatshan Lake Retreat on September 21 (Left to Right & Top to Bottom: Kate Ruoss, Jenn Means, Doris Hausleitner, Laurie Neeve, Melissa Flint).

PHOTO 2: Joe Pierre receives his award from Janet Kuijt at the ‘Our Classrooms as Vehicles to Reconciliation’ Southeast Kootenay School District Day on September 20.



Before becoming Nasuʔkin (Chief) for the ʔaq̓am Community, Joe Pierre had been working in Southeast Kootenay School District No. 5 for over 15 years. If asked, every student and staff member in this district, during these years, will have their own story of how Joe Pierre has shared his passion for the environment, the culture and landscape of his homeland. The list is long – from explaining how to raise a tipi, the blessings of talking circles, and sharing Ktunaxa legends, to leading the Blanket Exercise, Salmon Festival, gathering practices and district-wide Flag Raising gatherings.

Ingrid Liepa has been an environmental educator for many years. She has a diverse background that encompasses a wide range of organizations. She has undertaken climate change education in the Columbia Basin wearing many hats, including Columbia Basin Trust’s Climate Action Program, Wild Voices for Kids, Basin-Boundary Climate Adaptation and Innovation Project, and the Communities adapting to Climate Change Initiative.  She has also been on CBEEN’s board for the last 5 years.

From a young age, Melissa Flint knew she wanted to develop a deeper understanding of the curiosities and connections between humans and the earth. Melissa’s experience in environmental education is as diverse as the botany found in her hometown of Creston. Melissa delivers many unique environmental education programs providing a rich and impactful environmental education experience to youth throughout the Columbia Basin.

Kate Ruoss is a grade 1/2 primary teacher who organizes and engages her students in environmental education daily. She is someone who walks the talk and gently encourages daily. Kate is an inspiring lady who understands the importance of preserving the environment, teaching sustainable practices simply and who is consistently building capacity for community support in environmental education.

Laurie Neeve blends her love of the outdoors and passion for teaching everyday. She continuously tries to find new and innovative ways to bring placed based/inquiry learning to her teaching practice. In the words of one of her students “Mrs Neeve is the most outdoor “naturey” teacher I have ever had. She made learning fun. I love when she took us outside”.

Jenn Means is a passionate environmental educator who has spear-headed getting students outside at Selkirk Secondary School. She connects her students to community partners helping them develop a relationship with professionals who do work in this area; thus connecting them even further into the value of community stewardship.  She connects her students to younger students in the community through cross-school activities as well.

Doris Hausleitner is a wildlife biologist who teaches Terrestrial Ecology and Applied Systems Ecology at Selkirk College in the Integrated Environmental Planning program and Ecosystems Management for the Recreation Fish and Wildlife program. She serves on several boards and committees including Selkirk College’s Sustainability Committee, Columbia Mountain Institute of Applied Ecology, Slocan Wetlands Assessment and Monitoring Steering Committee and Kootenay Conservation Program.

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