The Council of Outdoor Educators of Ontario (COEO) is a non-profit, volunteer-based organization that promotes safe and high quality outdoor education experiences for people of all ages. It also acts as a professional body for outdoor educators in the province of Ontario. These aims are achieved through publishing Pathways: The Ontario Journal of Outdoor Education as well as an electronic newsletter, running an annual conferences and workshops, and working with kindred organizations as well as government agencies. COEO runs entirely on volunteer support and is managed by a Board of Directors.
- To establish and maintain professional practices in the field of outdoor education.
- To promote qualified leadership in outdoor education.
- To provide opportunities for professional growth.
- To promote the multiple values of outdoor education, both within and beyond our profession.
- To promote an active environmental ethic as a core value of education.
Meet the 2021-2022 Board of Directors!
President, Karen O’Krafka (she/her)
Karen is grateful to share her ninth year on COEO’s board of Directors with an inspiring board of OE educators! Karen’s continued hope is connecting Outdoor Educators with professional learning, inspiring collaborations, and adding an essential OE injection of fun, all essential as we approach our auspicious anniversary – 50 years of COEO! Just a little younger than COEO, Karen offers two decades of diverse professional rolls and wonderful experience in Outdoor and Environmental Education, working and volunteering with incredible camps, outdoor education centres, schools and conservation authorities. She is the co-founder of Hardwood Nature School. Karen currently lives and works in Nogojiwanong as an education coordinator at Peterborough GreenUP, where she has the privilege to create and facilitate meaningful, action-oriented youth education. She weaves together the power of place-based outdoor and environmental education to increase youth and climate resilience – building, biking, planning, planting and all manners of transformative action and engagement. When not working she can often be spied weeding in her tangled garden, heard singing as she races around on all manners of bikes, and exploring the waters of Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg territory with her family.
Past President, Natalie Kemp (she/her)
Natalie has worked as an outdoor educator for a variety of organizations in the Hamilton, Halton, and Niagara area. She currently works part-time as a nature interpreter at Royal Botanical Gardens, and she is searching for new opportunities to put her OE skills to good use. Natalie was introduced to COEO as a teacher candidate in the Queen’s OEE program, first getting more involved as a conference volunteer before joining the Board of Directors and chairing several conferences. This will be her sixth year on the Board, and the fifth position she has held. As Past President she is looking forward to planning COEO’s upcoming 50th, as well as continuing to advocate for outdoor education. When not at work Natalie enjoys exploring the nature in her neighbourhood, engaging with folks in her local St. Catharines community, and getting out for a hike or a paddle whenever she can.
Vice President, Aaron Parcher
Aaron attended his first COEO in 2013 and quickly found a great group of like minded individuals. He is a graduate from the ADVL program at Laurentian University and has worked at Pine River Institute, Bark Lake Leadership Center and within multiple public boards in Ontario. Aaron currently works as a teacher at Upper Canada College’s Norval Outdoor School, where he leads outdoor & experiential programming for students in K-12. He has been attending COEO conferences as both a participant & presenter for several years, then opted to get more involved by serving on the 2019 Fall Conference committee. Aaron is looking forward to Make Peace with Winter, and is excited to continue growing the COEO family with fellow outdoor educators as the Vice President.
Treasurer, Ben Blakey
Ben Blakey is a teacher, researcher, and outdoor educator currently on staff at Crescent School. Previously he worked as a teacher/researcher specializing in outdoor/environmental education at Montcrest School for 5 years, assisting some staff with outdoor programming and producing research projects centered around nature-based learning. His research interests include ecopsychology, summer camps, and integrating ‘contact with nature’ at various levels of the education system. Ben is serving his 7th year on the COEO board of directors, and has worked previously on the editorial board for COEO’s academic journal Pathways: the Ontario Journal of Outdoor Education for 4 years. He is currently leading the Past Perspectives Project along with Liz Jankowski, interviewing influential members from COEO’s early years in order to build a database as well as to share insights for the upcoming 50th annual conference. He is a father of 2 young girls, and is excited to be part of COEO’s work in the upcoming 2021/22 year.
Volunteer Coordinator, Danielle Barrett
Danielle Barrett works as a Resource Interpreter at Royal Botanical Gardens, where she spends spring & fall delivering educational programs to school groups from K-12 and is involved with developing programs based on the featured exhibit during the winter months. She is bilingual and loves being able to deliver programs in French. Danielle has been involved in interpretation for over 20 years, including work at Cape Breton Highlands National Park, Museum of Nature, and Dundurn National Historic Site. Danielle attended her first COEO conference in fall 2014. After being on the board as Director at Large for the last two years, she has decided to step into the role of Volunteer Coordinator for 2021-2022. As volunteer coordinator, her goal is to recruit and engage as many COEO members as possible on various projects for the 50th anniversary for online and in-person workshops and conferences.
She is looking forward to sharing her passion about outdoor education with the COEO community and learning from other nature educators.
Director-at-Large, Peggy Cheng (she/her)
Peggy is passionate about connecting people to nature and has worked for various conservation authorities across the Greater Toronto Area. She is currently a coordinator with Toronto and Region Conservation Authority where she works with teachers and student leaders to achieve EcoSchools certification. On certain weekends, she also spends time as a facilitator for Trails Youth Initiatives. When she is not working, she enjoys tending to her rooftop garden and camping in the fall when there are fewer bugs! Peggy attended her first COEO conference when she was studying at Queen’s University in the Outdoor and Experiential Education program in 2014. Having been a member since then, she is excited to give back to this community to join the board of directors this year and lend her time in keeping the COEO website up to date. She is privileged to live and work on the territory of the Anishinabek, Mississaugas of the Credit, and Huron-Wendat peoples and is continuing to learn from our Indigenous neighbours to live out truth and reconciliation.
Director-at-Large, April Nicolle
April is an avid naturalist, earth worker, artist and storyteller. From her work with Evergreen, Pine Project, and as one of the founders of Equinox Alternative she has had the opportunity to share her passion for nature with folks of all ages and from across Ontario. April loves having her hands in the earth, talking with the birds, and discovering the story of the seasons. She is honoured to be a Oskāpēwis and to walking the path of her Elder’s teachings.
Director-at-Large, Shanshan Tian (she/her)
Shanshan first attended a COEO gathering as a Queen’s Outdoor and Experiential Education Teacher Candidate and it was a love-at-first-sight kind of affair with our COEO community. She brings skills and past experiences in social media and conference planning to the council. As a first time COEO board member, she hopes to use her lived experiences to advocate for folks who identifies as BIPOC in outdoor education. Shanshan is energetic, charismatic and loves to spend time with like minded people over camp coffee. Meaningful work, awesome people, and good coffee… naturally COEO is a great fit!!!
In her day job, Shanshan teaches in the arctic in Igloolik, Nunavut. She lives in an off grid cabin – a total dream come true for an adventurous outdoor eddie! Her mission is to inspire Inuit youth to see themselves as leaders of their community. Shanshan’s favourite outdoor activities are cross country skiing and fishing on Baffin Island. She’s still trying to catch her first seal.
Membership Secretary, Bill Elgie
Spending six summers as a counsellor and canoe trip leader at a camp for youth-at-risk convinced me that I wanted to spend my life teaching outdoors. In my life BC (before children) I worked at Project DARE, Bark Lake and Outward Bound (both in Canada and overseas). During the 80s and 90s I worked as a science and environmental science teacher in both East York and York Region. From 1999 to 2021 I had the amazing good luck to be the Director of the Norval Outdoor School, the K-12 Outdoor Education Campus of Upper Canada College. My wife Leslie and I lived onsite at Norval, and raised our three children with a 450-acre backyard – a dream come true. We recently retired and moved to Perth, Ontario last summer by canoe. My best days involve wilderness canoe tripping, hiking, cycling or camping. I love singing, listening to 80s pop music and have recently taken up marathon swimming. My guilty pleasure is reading comic books.
Bill has one of the most unique teaching combinations in YRDSB: teaching an OEE program, co-coordinating King City SS’s grade 9 camp and being the Business Studies Department Head, teaching accounting, investments and general business courses. Bill graduated from the Queen’s OEE program a generation ago, then after a stint as a math and science teacher completed his MBA. Bill endeavors to have experiential components within all of his teaching, be it hiking the ORM or attending a Loblaw Company Ltd shareholder meeting with his class and using chiji cards to debrief an accounting case study!