July 27, 2020Print | PDF
Jessie Cowperthwaite, a recent graduate of Wilfrid Laurier University’s Bachelor of Education program, is one of two winners of the David Suzuki Fellowship Award, presented by the Dr. Eric Jackman Institute for Child Study at the University of Toronto.
During the upcoming school year, Cowperthwaite will spend a week in the institute’s Child Study Laboratory School, a fully functioning elementary school designed to provide an exceptional learning environment for children and teacher candidates. Through the fellowship, Cowperthwaite will be immersed in the laboratory school’s four-part approach to environmental education under the mentorship of teachers and researchers. She will also receive a $500 award.
The David Suzuki Fellowship Award is presented annually to two graduating teacher or early childhood educator candidates from an Ontario Faculty of Education program who have demonstrated excellence in the environmental education of elementary school children.
Environmental education and outdoor learning were a focus for Cowperthwaite throughout her time at Laurier. During her placements in classrooms in Fergus and Rockwood, she brought children outside to learn, including to a nearby nature reserve. During her alternative placement, Cowperthwaite taught at the Guelph Outdoor School, where children can learn outside one or two days a week instead of attending their regular schools.
Cowperthwaite says her own experiences, along with those of her three children in the public school system, served to reinforce the importance of nature-based learning.
“I saw how sedentary the system is,” says Cowperthwaite. “It doesn’t work for a lot of kids, especially with the increased focus on technology. I think nature-based, hands-on learning can provide a more rich and well-rounded experience. When kids are really engaged in the natural world, they can learn so much more than through textbooks. It’s not just their minds that benefit – learning outside contributes to their overall well-being.”
Inspired in part by her partner, who is Cree from the James Bay area, and his family, Cowperthwaite includes Indigenous voices and perspectives in her teaching. Indigenous perspectives on environmental subjects are a core part of teacher and student education at the Child Study Laboratory School. Indigenous perspectives are also collected and shared through Natural Curiosity, a resource guide for educators published by the Dr. Eric Jackman Institute for Child Study.
Prior to studying at Laurier, Cowperthwaite worked as an outdoor education instructor for the Toronto District School Board and as a nature connection mentor with the Guelph Outdoor School. She also holds a B.Sc. in chemistry and environmental studies from the University of Victoria.
The David Suzuki Fellowships were made possible by the Norman and Marian Robertson Charitable Foundation, Child Study Laboratory School teachers and environmentalist David Suzuki.
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