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teaching teachers at Camp KawarthaWhile most people recognize that Camp Kawartha Outdoor Education Centre provides environmental education to thousands of students throughout the school year, it may be a lesser known fact that they are also quietly seeding talented and passionate Environmental Educators in classrooms across the province of Ontario through a program called Eco-Mentors.

In 2010, Jacob Rodenburg, Executive Director of Camp Kawartha began a collaboration with Dr. Paul Elliot at Trent University’s School of Education after recognizing that while many teachers would like to bring environmental education into the classrooms they lacked the skills and confidence to bring these concepts to their students in a meaningful way.  It is challenging to address serious environmental issues like species extinction, habitat loss, climate change, water and air pollution and so on, without sinking into what educator, David Sobel, has termed “Ecophobia”; a strange phenomenon experienced by children who are connected through social media to devastating global environmental problems while suffering from a complete lack of genuine connection to nature outside their own front door.

All the more important then, for teachers to reframe environmental education away from the overwhelming problems that paralyze and overwhelm kids and towards getting to know the world around them in a way that fosters hope and builds agency.  And it starts with getting to know the living systems all around them, from wildlife to waterways to concepts of stewardship and Indigenous roots of environmental education.

Student teachers at Trent University enrolled in the Eco-Mentor Program attend 4 intensive weekend workshops at Camp Kawartha’s Environment Centre with titles like “Inspiring Hope” and “Removing Barriers to Environmental Education”. The workshops are led by Trent Professors and local experts in the field of Education, Environmental Studies and Indigenous Studies as well as guest speakers from the community.   Participants must show they can apply this new knowledge in their compulsory in-class placements.  The end result is an “Eco-Mentor” certificate that newly minted teachers can show Principals to demonstrate their unique set of skills and passion for Environmental Education.

The Eco-Mentor model has been adopted by 4 other Universities in Ontario so far.

Article published in the Cottage Country Connection – April 2016

By Shawna Foxton, Registrar at Camp Kawartha.