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 2022-2023 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 spent her career working as an outdoor educator for organizations throughout Hamilton, Halton, and Niagara. She currently works full-time for Hamilton Conservation Authority, as well as helping to run the Junior Naturalists Club at Royal Botanical Gardens once a month. Natalie was first introduced to COEO when she attended an Annual Fall Conference while in the Queen’s OEE program. A few years later she joined the Board of Directors and has now chaired four of these conferences, including the recent 50th anniversary conference. Her focus this year is to mentor and support new conference chairs, as well as continue to build the bursary fund. 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, Hilary Coburn
Hil is excited to be working alongside this fabulous group of COEO leaders this year as the Vice President. When she was in OEE at Queen’s in 2011, she attended her first Fall Conference and officially fell in love with COEO. Over many summers spent canoe tripping and camp counselling at Camp Tanamakoon in Algonquin Park, Hil’s love of the outdoors grew strong. Working at Project Canoe, Outward Bound, Me to We, and a couple of seasons at the Outdoor Centre at Camp Wanakita continued to empower Hil to immerse her students in nature and community based programs. Two years of working with amazing students, staff and Elders at the Bronte Creek Project enforced Hil’s belief in the positive power of integrated outdoor education. She loved teaching nad learning in Pelly Crossing, Yukon for two years; where her and her husband Arthur could be found cross country skiing, taking our trapping/canoeing field trips, and beading with community members.
Hil is passionate and committed to continuing our important relationship with local Elders and indigenous community members. She will continue to support COEO’s forward movement with being a part of positive reconciliation and working to make COEO conferences accessible to all. She currently is on maternity leave with little Jasper, but will return to teaching in the Bluewater District School Board in Spring 2023. Hil can’t wait to see you all at Make Peace with Winter in January!!
Treasurer, Bill Schoenhardt
Bill is the jack of many trades at King City S.S. He is perhaps the only person in Ontario who teaches both Business and Outdoor Education! Bill has been on the BoD as Treasurer for an aggregate of 10 years, and acknowledges that COEO conferences are much more enjoyable then economic teachers’ conferences! A graduate of the Queen’s OEE program and the Schulich School of Business, Bill endeavors to be experiential in his all his teaching – be it capital markets or canoeing. Bill makes his home in York Region, spending as much time as possible in the out-of-doors with his wife and daughters. In the upcoming year it is Bill’s goal to have COEO end the year with a surplus.
Secretary, 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 8th 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. He is a father of 2 young girls, and is excited to be part of COEO’s work in the upcoming 2022/23 year.
Volunteer Coordinator, 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.
Director-at-Large, Peggy Cheng (she/her)
Peggy is passionate about connecting people to nature! She is currently a coordinator with Toronto and Region Conservation Authority and 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. She joined the board of directors last year and is excited to be back this year and get the mentorship initiative started for COEO members! 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, Christine Lynes
Christine Lynes is very excited to have been elected as a director at large this year for the fabulous COEO. She has been involved with COEO for over a decade, both attending many events as a participant and as a regular yoga teacher who presented and offer rise and shine yoga at many a fall conference! Christine is an avid naturalist and has trained in permaculture practises in Australia in the early 2000 and continues to make a mark as a public school teacher as a teacher lead for Eco Schools and a project manager in her previous school for execution of two school community gardens; a pollinator garden, a local sustainable food garden. Christine spends her summers roaming with her two free range kids across Canada and the planet. Her quest to educate others by introducing them to the love of nature is a strong motivator in her life. She can’t wait to help COEO.
Director-at-Large, David Spencer
Academic Background: Bachelor of Outdoor Recreation (Lakehead University), B.Ed & OEE Program (Queen’s University)
Biography: David Spencer has a passion for bringing people together for a common goal and vision. He co-developed Wilderness Experience, an integrated outdoor and Indigenous values program for the Peel District School Board where his team led teens outside to explore nature with Indigenous Elders and experience team work through camping, canoeing, cycling, hiking and snowshoeing.
Summer camps and day camps have opened his eyes to the value of community building, singsongs, campfires and canoe trips. He has worked or volunteered at Bark Lake Leadership and Conference Centre, Pioneer Camp Ontario, Ontario Camp Leadership Centre (OCLC) at Bark Lake, Project DARE, Camp Kitchikewana, Camp Kandalore, Camp Tawingo, Apologetics Boot Camp, C.Y.O. Camp Brébeuf, and the City of Brampton’s Camp Robogi.
David co-authored The Green School resource guide for OSSTF and contributed to an Indigenous studies curriculum for the Ontario History and Social Science Teachers’ Association (OHASSTA-AESHO). He made a presentation to UNESCO ECO-ED The World Congress for Education and Communication on Environment and Development with the United Nations.
He researched, built a team and wrote scripts as Executive Producer for Generation XC, a youth television show. He co-founded and produced a show for the Erin Radio Station. David is currently training to be a television producer for RogersTV and film location scout. He hopes to use these skills and connections to promote outdoor and experiential education and connect COEO members with outdoor shoots for extras.
Since joining COEO in 1984, David has written for Pathways and provided conference workshops on canoeing, The Green School, integrating music in outdoor education, Twitter and songwriting. He encouraged COEO to register our coeo.org website domain and he set up our COEO social media accounts for Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
As an ORCKA Canoeing instructor David plans to continue helping teachers obtain experience and certifications so that they can lead their own canoeing trips. During his current work in media and television and as an Occasional Outdoor Instructor, David hopes to relay new ideas and suggestions to the COEO Board of Directors.
Membership Secretary, Bill Elgie
Academic Background: B.Sc. (University of Waterloo), B.Ed. (University of Toronto)
Biography: 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. In 2021 we retired and moved to Perth, Ontario – by canoe of course! 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 graphic novels.