Nancy Gillis, a grade 2/3 teacher at Toronto’s Cresthaven Public School, is setting the bar for environmental education. On the heels of winning Canadian Geographic’s Classroom Energy Diet Challenge’s (CEDC) Energy Educator of the Year Award for Central Canada in spring 2015, Gillis was named Educator of the Year in the K-12 division by the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE).

The award, presented recently in San Diego, California, recognizes Gillis’s efforts in promoting environmental education and utilizing the environment as a context for learning in her teaching.

“I love to see the kids become so engaged with environmental literacy,” Gillis says. “I think it’s the opportunity to take action and the idea that they are doing something to make the world a better place that makes them so passionate about environmental issues.”

The NAAEE first discovered Gillis’ pedagogical prowess when Gillis participated in the summer CEDC workshop.

“Nancy Gillis is a trailblazer in the field of environment education,” says Ellen Curtis, Director of Education with Canadian Geographic Education. “We felt her commitment to environmental literacy deserves the recognition that The NAAEE Educator of the Year Award can bring.”

Among the initiatives Gillis does with her Cresthaven students, there are waste audits, eco-innovation projects like designing and building solar desk lamps, and empowering school-wide advocacy to consume less energy.

The students learn about issues relevant to the community too — such as changes to a nearby oil pipeline. This issue spurred the student eco committee to produce a film which was showcased at the United Nations World Environment Day Student Film Festival. Gillis also helped her school achieve Platinum Level Eco status through the Ontario Eco Schools program.

With files from Deborah Chapman