After Megan Thomson completed her alternative placement hours for Western’s bachelor of education program by volunteering with Forests Ontario, she kept going.
That commitment – and her impressive results – earned Thomson the White Pine Award from Forests Ontario, an annual recognition to honour a student who’s provided “outstanding contributions to forest education throughout the province.”
She reviewed and updated nearly 100 lesson plans, helped run an annual Envirothon – an environmental competition full of hands-on learning – and gave virtual presentations to hundreds of Grade 4 to Grade 6 school students across the province during her time with the non-profit organization. But when Thomson had finished her required hours, instead of leaving, she stayed on with Forests Ontario to do more work in the environmental education field.
“I was really honoured and touched to be recognized,” Thomson, in her second year of teacher’s college, said of the award.
“I am passionate about making environmental education accessible to more students. There can be a lot of barriers, money-wise or in the form of a lack of representation of racialized students. I want to keep pushing and make it more of a community effort.” – Megan Thomson
Allison Hands, education manager at Forests Ontario, referred to a key theme when highlighting Thomson’s contributions: passion.
“She’s really passionate about connecting with students to help them understand the local environment,” Hands said.
That translated to superstar status giving classroom presentations, where Thomson shared information about urban forests, invasive species and other environmental concepts in an engaging way.
“We always got great feedback about her ability to connect with the students, ask great questions, and bring a lot of passion to the content,” Hands said.
Thomson spent time scouring classroom resources that Forests Ontario prepares for teachers, updating the content and making sure the lessons remained relevant to the modern classroom, Hands added. She built a detailed list of curriculum links for teachers to access – a resource Thomson said she’ll use in her own career as a teacher – and helped score projects from a virtual Envirothon.
The White Pine Award can be given to a high school or post-secondary student, but in years when there isn’t a shining candidate, Forests Ontario doesn’t honour anyone with it.
“It’s not a given,” Hands said.
With Thomson, it was a natural fit.
“I’m really excited to see what she brings to the teaching profession. I know she’ll bring a lot of enthusiasm and passion to keep students engaged,” Hands said.
All Western students pursuing a bachelor of education are required to do 210 hours – or a total of about seven weeks – worth of “alternative field experiences” as a paid or volunteer placement at non-profit organizations, community centres or other locations, where they can learn about education and youth outside of a traditional classroom. Those hours are in addition to the traditional practicum, or classroom hours required of teachers-in-training.
Thomson is now supply teaching and getting ready to transition to the classroom full-time. Environmental science is one of her “teachable” subjects and her focus is on high school-age students.
“My goal is to have more hands-on and outdoor education opportunities for students. Sometimes those can get waylaid,” Thomson said.
Time, scheduling and other challenges can keep kids and teens indoors. But Thomson believes environmental learning offers dividends far beyond fresh air and a knowledge of native species.
“It’s something I really want to do more of, so it can be more student-driven, and they have a chance to be directing their own education and connecting with nature at the same time,” she said.
That work helps students link what they’re learning in the classroom with larger world issues, Thomson said.
“They can solve other problems that are also important. I think that’s crucial, making sure the students have something they’re passionate about and can apply that to the real world,” she said.