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 2023-2024 Board of Directors!
President, Hilary Coburn
Hil is thrilled to be working alongside this dedicated group of COEO leaders this year as the 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 and 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 is currently the Education Resource Coordinator with Take Me Outside as well as a Grade 6 educator in Meaford with Bluewater District School Board. Hil can’t wait to see you all at Make Peace with Winter 2024 in January!!
Vice-President, Peggy Cheng (she/her)
Peggy’s original career plans was not in education but through her work in community stream restoration, the role of connecting people to nature ignited the spark for her to pursue outdoor education. She currently works as a coordinator with Toronto and Region Conservation Authority where she trains and supports educators to interweave outdoor ed and EcoSchools into the curriculum. When she is not working she enjoys tending to her rooftop garden, camping in the fall when there are fewer bugs, and travelling through the forest using her cross country skis! Peggy attended her first COEO conference in 2014 when she was studying at Queen’s University in the Outdoor and Experiential Education program.
This year, she is excited to be a part of the board as vice president to support the work of COEO and her fellow board members! She is privileged to be an immigrant settler who lives, works, and plays on the territories of the Anishinabek, Mississaugas of the Credit, Haudenosaunee and Huron-Wendat peoples and is continuing to learn from our Indigenous neighbours to live out truth and reconciliation.
Past 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.
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 an outdoor educator, teacher, and researcher currently working as an Environmental Education teacher at the Toronto French School. Previously he worked on staff at Crescent School, and Mabin School, and before that 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. He has an extensive background in outdoor, experiential, and environmental education, having taught students in school from grades K – 12. His research interests include ecopsychology, summer camps, exercise neuroscience, and integrating ‘contact with nature’ at various levels of the education system. Ben is serving his 9th 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 a father of 2 young girls, and is excited to be part of COEO’s work in the upcoming 2023/24 year.
Volunteer Coordinator, 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, Valerie Freemantle
Val grew up in the suburbs of the Greater Toronto Area. She is grateful for the adults in her life who brought her outside as a tween and young adult. She remembers the magic that the outdoors had to help her become a more confident, calmer, and fuller version of herself in those key formative years. The first chance she got to work in outdoor education was as in 2012 undergrad co-op student at the Scarborough Outdoor Education School (Kearney, ON) run by the Toronto District School Board. She knew she had found something special and after a couple of detours she was able to return to outdoor education.
After completing her M.Sc. at Queen’s researching changes in plant cover in Canada’s arctic, she enrolled in the OEE program at Queen’s. Since graduating in 2020, she has been working as an outdoor educator at Foley Mountain Conservation Area (Rideau Valley Conservation Authority) and supply teaching in both traditional schools and outdoor education spaces across eastern and southern Ontario. In Spring 2023, she completed Outward Bound’s Training Academy. In addition to the technical skills, this program was the encouraging nudge Val needed to start her own business in outdoor education. As a mixed race person and a member of the LGBTQ+ community, she wants to use her work and role in COEO as a way to make outdoor education more accessible to new comers to Canada as well as those who may not feel welcomed in traditional outdoor education spaces. After co-chairing the 2023 fall COEO conference “Opening Doors to the Outdoors” she is excited join the board and continue the work of making space for everyone in outdoor education.
Director-at-Large, Billie Jo Reid
Billie Jo is excited for her first year in the Director at Large on the COEO board! She has been attending the Fall conference for several years, and recently held the position of Keynote Liaison last winter at her first MPWW. During the recent 2023 Fall Conference, Billie Jo she held the role of Co-chair on the organizing committee.
Billie Jo began her career in Outdoor Education at the age of 16, completing her first ORCKA Instructor level. Since then, she has completed several ORCKA Instructor levels and has worked as a wilderness canoe tripping guide and canoe instructor for over 20 years. Billie Jo has worked at several outdoor education centers throughout here career, where she has been fortunate to be able to grow her environment knowledge and strengthen her passion for helping others explore the outdoors.
During the COVID – 19 pandemic, Billie Jo discovered her passion for Nature Journaling in both a professional and personal setting. Nature Journaling has offered her the opportunity to co-lead a Nature Journaling safari in Tanzania with John Muir Laws, and several other opportunities running workshops and partnering with the Wild Wonder Foundation.
Billie Jo continues to teach students and adults, looking for connections with our natural world and Nature Journalling, encouraging everyone to stay curious!
Director-at-Large, Angel Suarez Esquivel (he/his/him)
Student and Community Engagement Specialist / Senior Nature Interpreter
Nature name: Hummingbird
Angel is an Early Childhood Educator (ECE) who specializes in outdoor pedagogy. Along with his Early Childhood Education and Teaching diploma from Humber College, Angel has a Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Engineering and Sustainability. He works at the Humber Arboretum and Centre for Urban Ecology in Toronto as a Student and Community Engagement Specialist, coordinating the ECE field placement for outdoor education and the Learning by Leading program for Humber College and University of Guelph-Humber students. Finally, as a part of the Arb’s educational team, he continues to work with college students along with the general community and children of all ages.
Angel has a special connection to nature as it is the place he feels most comfortable, and he knows that nature always has something new to teach him. Originally from Mexico, he advocates for Latine communities to have fair access to outdoor spaces and recreation. He is passionate about removing barriers to nature and his goal is to connect more people to the outdoors.
Director-at-Large, Kim Squires (she/her)
Kim is excited to join COEO’s Board of Directors this year! She was first introduced to COEO while completing her Bachelor of Education at Wilfrid Laurier University in 2012 and has loved it ever since. She is an early childhood educator and teacher and now works as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition at the University of Guelph. While teaching in the Bachelor of Applied Science Child Studies program, Kim works with many pre-service early childhood educators and aims to help students understand the critical importance of outdoor play and learning opportunities for children and adults. Her research program focuses on early childhood education and care, with a particular focus on outdoor play. Among many things, she is curious about how we design outdoor learning environments, how these spaces are accessible to a variety of learners, and how this impacts children’s play, learning, and development. Kim is hoping to be able to support expanded connections to the fields of early childhood education and outdoor play while in the role of Director-at-Large. In her own outdoor play, Kim loves backcountry camping and recently invested in a new canoe to expand her adventures!
Membership Secretary, Lee McArthur
Lee McArthur and happy to be here! I am a seasoned educator, experienced school vice principal, and feet on the ground teacher / learner at heart. I have worked in the public system with all grades from K to 12. I have also been lucky to be a teacher at forest schools.
As an educator I have continuously brought in local expertise and forged alliances with conservation authorities, community groups, local businesses, and funding organizations. These alliances are essential for the work. Together we plant trees, naturalize school yards, build outdoor spaces, facilitate outdoor experiences, deepen our learning and generally get children and youth outdoors and connected with nature.
I am now working on a PhD at Trent University in interdisciplinary social research with a focus on education for sustainability. In the first year of my PhD I have had the good fortune to present workshops at EECOM, Take Me Outside, Wild Pedagogies and COEO’s wonderful fall 2023 conference Open the Doors to the Outdoors. I am currently in various teaching roles at Trent, working with aspiring teachers and undergraduates in environmental science and conservation biology. I have been an outdoors enthusiast all my life, hiking, canoeing, kayaking, wandering and often just sitting and being in the wilderness – drinking it all in. As a young child and as an adult my greatest solace and feeling of deepest belonging has always been outside in the natural world.
Like many of you, I feel the urgency of the work done by COEO and its members. We have an important calling to reforge and strengthen connections between our children, youth and young adults and the natural world that sustains us.
I am thrilled to be on the board of COEO and look forward to working with the COEO team and membership to further these goals through supporting and building this wonderful organization.