Local Educators Take Home Awards at National Conference     

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A number of local educators took home awards from the 2018 Canadian Environmental Education Conference. The awards ceremony, which took place on October 20 at St. Eugene Mission Resort, recognized both classroom teachers and community educators who demonstrated excellence in encouraging stewardship and sustainability through environmental education in the Canadian Columbia Basin. Nominated by their peers, and chosen by a committee of past recipients, their experience, collaborative efforts and mentorship have made a positive impact on our entire region.

Local awards went to Courtney Haeusler (Fernie), Dawn Deydey (Fernie), Janene Stein (Balfour), Joan Dolinsky (Golden), Katrina Sumrall (New Denver), Kristina Leidums (Creston), Laura Jackman (Rossland), Mardelle Sauerborn (Sparwood) and Sheena Stienstra (Castlegar). Photos of these recipients can be found online: https://cbeen.ca/awards.

Past recipients, Janet Kuijt, Natasha Burgess and Erika Momeyer presented the awards. Burgess remarked, “It was such an honour to be able to stand with past award recipients and recognize the efforts of these nine inspiring educators. As we read about the achievements of each of these individuals, I was reminded again of the incredible work being done across the Columbia Basin. I was also brought back to the feeling of pride and community that came when I received my award, and I hope this year’s award recipients had that feeling as well.”

In addition, the local region brought home two Canadian Awards of Environmental Education Excellence. The Kootenay-Boundary’s School Superintendent Environmental Education Initiative was recognized for their work in supporting place-based learning in schools around the region. And CBEEN’s Executive Director, Duncan Whittick, received the national award for outstanding individual supporting an organization in Canada.

Canadian Awards Chair, Adam Young, reflected that “The EECOM Awards Ceremony is an important moment for environmental educators across the country to honour the individuals and organizations who are leading the way in Canada. We are fortunate to celebrate and learn from award winners and have them as inspiration in our day-to-day practices and decision making on critical environmental teachings.”


Courtenay Haeusler (Fernie) is an amazing advocate for getting kids outdoors and into nature. She is deserving of this award because of her passion, enthusiasm and dedication for getting kids to appreciate and love being outside. She is the co-founder of Outdoor Connections and recently opened a forest school within her company to help children appreciate nature from a very young age. Other programming includes a Girls Adventure Series, Summer Camps and school programs for Kindergarteners to Grade 12 students. Courtney understands and contributes to the immense value of allowing children to have repeated access to outdoor space that is full of child-led, unstructured play as well as tailored programs building inter-personal skills, outdoor living skills and safe wilderness experiences. Her company mission is clear and inspires: To provide affordable opportunities for children of all ages to connect to themselves, each other and the natural world. 

Dawn Deydey (Fernie) has been instrumental to many environmental initiatives, both locally, in the Elk Valley, as well as regionally.  As a local food security advocate, she founded the Fernie Community Ecogarden and an Apple share program. She facilitates gardening experiences for families and children, hands-on workshops about growing and preserving fresh foods, composting and vermicomposting workshops, seed swaps, and a salad bar program that has fed 500 students daily.  She also developed Wildsight Elk Valley’s Keeping Food Real education series, which provides cold climate educational resources and hands-on practical workshops that support both novice and intermediate gardeners.  Dawn is Program Coordinator for Wildsights’s Beyond Recycling program that reaches 700+ students per year with in-depth, engaging lessons and activities about the Ecological Footprint and how to shrink it. Dawn is not only an exemplary educator, she also walks the talk. She is a true innovator, living by her ideals and in right relation to the Earth. 

Joan Dolinksy (Golden). For over 30 years, Joan’s commitment and contributions to environmental education in Golden have helped to shape the community. As a volunteer with Wildsight Golden since its inception in 1989, and as the branch president for many years, she has initiated and supported numerous programs and events in the community, including school field trips, the annual Earth Day clean-up at Reflection Lake, and other events supporting environmental stewardship, sustainability, and education in the region. Joan has also brought her expertise and passion to the Wild Voices for Kids program. Students learn about local birds and the significance of the Columbia River Wetlands through engaging and experiential bird watching field studies at Reflection Lake. She also collaboratively offers a program on Kokanee Salmon migration, and continues to work with other community members to support initiatives such as the Responsible Recreation program for high school students. Joan is truly a collaborator and mentor in the community, working closely with and empowering community members and educators in the region. 

Kristina Leidums (Creston) A mother, a teacher, a wife, and a caregiver of both the Creston Valley community and her natural surroundings, Kristina is a humble, dedicated and graceful individual whose efforts go beyond teaching at the Kootenay Nature School. She has invested countless hours that are attributed to shifting how our young will connect and naturally learn to respect and protect their wildness.  Creston Kids Outside Society is becoming the shift the education and family systems need. Kristina has taken on the lead role of developing and starting the Kootenay Nature School for preschool aged children in Creston BC.  She has collaborated with every group possible, from CBEEN to the town of Creston, RDCK, SD8, the local community forest, Strong Start, Forest School Canada, and many others directly and indirectly. As founder of the Creston Kids Outside Society, Kristina also works to bring family outdoor experiences to children and parents as well as authoring a monthly article in the local paper. Her passion and dedication getting young kids playing outdoors and growing nature connection is an inspiration! 

Janene Stein (Balfour) is a passionate educator who has led her school staff and community to truly make a difference in environmental education.  Starting with integrating outdoor learning into the school growth plan, Janene worked with staff to build the foundations for safe and engaged outdoor learning with students as well as purchasing equipment to make outdoor education easier for all staff.  Janene’s class projects have worked with local artists, elders and government to create educational post signs, channel guides, depicting local plants and their uses and plans to build an outdoor classroom across from the schoolyard. Janene’s leadership continues to bring together diverse groups of people, with amazing skillsets, to make an incredible impact on the environmental stewardship of the students and community of Redfish Elementary. 

Katrina Sumrall (New Denver) is the environmental conscience, leader, and hero in school district 10.  For more than 25 years at Lucerne School in New Denver, her Grade 4/5/6 classes have done all the recycling for the entire school whilst students learn about sustainability and the environment. In 2008, she championed a school garden, 2012, a school greenhouse, and is the unsung hero in our 2015 film: Garden, Greenhouse and Sustainability. Katrina’s composting program has been replicated in numerous other schools. Her class, parents and community volunteers, collect and compost to make the annual Hills Garlic Festival, attracting 5000 visitors in one day, a zero waste event. In 2013, Katrina’s class learned from community elders in their gardens and published a book, The Talking Spade – sharing horticulture lore. In 2017, her class focused on the true story of our regional landfills filming: “Where Does It Really Go?” Whether paddling Slocan Lake, filming, publishing, collaborating or composting with students Katrina’s lifelong work is as an environmental educator.

Laura Jackman (Rossland) is a fearless guide in environmental education in School District 20. She has created and implemented a now community-wide, weeklong Bio Blitz, a celebration of environmental education and action that brings together three schools and experts from around the Columbia Basin. She organizes local, regional and provincial Pro-D – from Super Conference to Classrooms to Communities to leading the local EEPSA chapter. She encourages and mentors others without hesitation, with wide-ranging knowledge, and with a sense of vision and enthusiasm.  Laura is continuously working on environmental projects with her students, with the latest being a tree identification project.  Inquiry walls investigating environment systems and issues adorn the walls in Laura’s classroom, which also features plants, garden boxes, and a life-size paper maché  tree in the centre of the classroom.   Students who have the gift of being in Laura’s class have rich outdoor learning experiences and develop self-confidence through their hand’s on discovery. 

Mardelle Saurerborn (Sparwood) is an initiator, collaborator, mentor and leader both in her school, Frank J. Mitchell Elementary, and the region. She initiated her school’s Wild School project, she collaborates with local organizations, she leads the local EEPSA chapter, and organized workshops including Coyote Mentoring and internationally renowned Juliet Robertson. Her colleague, Kerri Purdy, shares, “Mardelle is a great role model for our school. She inspires teachers to take their students outside to explore the amazing areas Sparwood has to offer. Mardelle is always available to mentor and encourage teachers to become comfortable in extending their classrooms to the outdoors.  In addition, she has been instrumental in acquiring outdoor equipment and creating field guides for all of us to use outdoors with our students, and was the one who applied for us to become part of the Wild Schools Program befitting every classroom in Sparwood. Mardelle is an inspiration, and somebody that we all look to as a leader in our school. She not only made our school better, but she pushes us to become better teachers.” 

Sheena Stienstra (Castlegar) creates and implements numerous place-based, outdoor environmental education initiatives that enrich her students’ education, some of which will be utilized by all RCS staff for years to come. Sheena also collaborates effectively with community wildlife, trails, and historical societies in developing and implementing environmental education programs for students. Finally, Sheena is a staff leader for environmental education, arranging staff professional development workshops and volunteering her time to create resources for environmental education use at local schools. Through place-based activities Sheena’s students become stewards of their local environment. Sheena draws from community expertise in implementing these programs and she teaches many of them herself. Sheena has taken the lead role in creating a new wetland for RCS, and she previously volunteered her time to create resources for the Kinnaird School wetland. Working with the local rod and gun club, First Nation, and trails societies Sheena helped create the ‘work and learn days’ that over 600 students have participated in over the past 5 years.



Three years ago the Kootenay-Boundary Chapter of the British Columbia School Superintendents Association (BCSSA) initiated the Kootenay-Boundary Environmental Education (KBEE) Initiative. This environmental education initiative is unique in BC, and likely unique in Canada. Members of the Kootenay Boundary Chapter of the BCSSA include School Districts 5, 6, 8, 10, 20 and 51. This group includes the Superintendents, Assistant Superintendents, Directors of Instruction and other senior management staff of these school districts. Prior to their district-level appointments, members served for many years as teachers and principals, bringing highly developed skills and a lifelong passion for teaching and learning to this environmental education initiative.

The KBEE initiative supports a coordinated focus on K-12 environmental education across the region. Teachers’ daily professional decisions and actions shape the learning, decisions and actions of future generations of environmental stewards. Individual teachers with a passion for EE and pockets of collaboration in and between schools exist now. By intentionally connecting the districts, schools, and teachers of the region and providing common awareness, access to professional development, resources, and opportunities they are enhancing the EE experience and learning of all students.

The KBEE Committee has undertaken a number of efforts to foster a greater understanding of ecological principles and environmental issues, and fostering fostering of environmental ethics. An example is through their Take Me Outside for Learning School Year Challenge and Take Me Outside for Learning Seasonal Weeks (an enhancement of the Canadian Take Me Outside Day). These events have over 50% participation rate from ALL students and teachers in the region! The KBEE initiative has also coordinated the development of a Place-based Inspiration Handbook and Video project that can now be viewed online here: http://kbee.ca/.

They are helping to develop EE skills by providing professional development sessions (ie. David Sobel) and workshops (Classrooms to Communities school district workshops). They have also provided the time and resources to come together with other school staff and community partners to identify EE needs, and then work together with partners such as CBEEN and EEPSA to meet these needs. This committee is now able to track outcomes of environmental learning efforts in the region by implementing regional survey questions around students learning in, about and for nature. This information will help to inform future initiatives which will be able to show the direct impact of efforts. The KBEE Committee members have also presented several times to their provincial counterparts and ministry representatives to advocate for the benefits of outdoor and environmental learning across the province and beyond. They will be providing a presentation at the EECOM 2018 Conference, and the school districts they represent have all come on board to be both partners and sponsors of this conference


Ever since Duncan Whittick took on the role of Executive Director of the Columbia Basin Environmental Education Network (CBEEN), the organization has grown in many aspects. Duncan has brought environmental education to the forefront in the Basin with his exceptional leadership. He is someone who not only recognizes a good idea but is able to follow through on these with success. Duncan’s strength includes networking, supporting and enabling others to support and contribute where possible while being well organized.

Duncan not only sees opportunities but seizes them to allow the CBEEN to grow and become a very effective organization that supports and promotes EE in the Basin and beyond. Duncan is a big picture thinker who is able to pay attention to the details. From bringing together local environmental educators to bringing Jane Goodall to Cranbrook; from organizing small leadership clinics to organizing a national conference in the Kootenays, no task is too big or too small for Duncan. Above all, he approaches each situation with a friendly smile, endless enthusiasm and positive attitude.

Duncan has the ability to network with people of all backgrounds and as a result he brings the right people together and makes great things happen in the field of Environmental Education. Duncan has raised the capacity of Environmental Education, not only in the Columbia Basin, but throughout BC and arguably across Canada. In addition to his work with CBEEN, he also is the Communications Coordinator for the Canadian Network for Environmental Education & Communication (EECOM) and Co-coordinator for the Kootenay Boundary Environmental Education Initiative.

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