Association for Environmental & Outdoor education

Our mission is to advance the impact of environmental and outdoor education in California


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Want to be informed about upcoming professional development, ways to advocate for access to outdoor learning, and opportunities to connect with other educators across the state? The best way to join our network of dedicated individuals and organizations in California that are committed to using environmental and outdoor education as a tool to create lasting environmental change is to become a member. If you're not quite ready to make that commitment, you can still be informed about opportunities across the state by subscribing to our e-newsletter on our homepage!

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  • August 10, 2021 4:34 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Dear Environmental and Outdoor Education Community,

    We recently learned about the deaths of two valuable members of our community. Please join us in celebrating their lives and contributions to environmental and outdoor education. 

    With care,

    Your friends at AEOE


    We were greatly saddened to hear of the recent deaths of two environmental and outdoor learning champions: 

    rikki (lowercase preferred) Shackelford

    rikki was a long time AEOE member, regular conference attendee, and was honored as the Northern Environmental Educator of the Year in 2005. A falconer, poet, and gifted educator with a deep passion for nature, rikki touched the lives of countless students and staff through his career, including time spent at Web of Life Field (WOLF) School, Exploring New Horizons, Lawrence Hall of Science, and Bay Area Teen Science. rikki’s passing was unexpected and he will be greatly missed by our community. 

    Photo: rikki and his red-tailed hawk

    Tom Preston

    A 2013 Howard Bell awardee for lifetime achievement in environmental and outdoor education, Tom was the former Camp Director of Camp O-Ongo and Camp O-Ongo Outdoor Education Center in Running Springs, CA. His dear friend Jim Sims, also a long-time AEOE supporter, shared at the time of his award: “I know of no other person whose total life work has so positively impacted the lives of thousands of children and youth as they were involved in outdoor education and camping under Tom’s leadership.” In addition to his contributions to the field, Tom was a valued husband, father, grandfather, brother, mentor, counselor, veteran, and friend.

    Photo: Tom, receiving the Howard Bell Award in 2013

    Please join us in sending condolences to Tom and rikki’s loved ones and helping us to honor their memories. 

  • July 20, 2021 4:46 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Following the 2021 award ceremony, Miho was willing to sit down with Estrella Risinger, AEOE's Executive Director, and expand on her background and teaching approach. We hope you will enjoy learning more of Miho's story and are inspired as we are!

    Please tell us a little bit about your background and what brought you to this work. Your name is especially powerful. Would you be willing to share? 

    I was born and raised in an urban industrial area in Tokyo. As a curious and athletic city kid, I always loved being outdoors and finding nature in the concrete jungle. I remember discovering a family of rats living under the pavement on our street. I tied a piece of cheese with a string and sent the bait into a hole in the pavement. I waited and slowly pulled the cheese out of the hole. I saw nothing. I had to be more patient! I did it again and waited longer. Sure enough, this time I saw a mouth and whiskers following the cheese as I pulled it out! With excitement, I pulled the cheese too fast and the rat went back in. On my third try, I pulled the cheese out very slowly until I could see the body of the rat. My hypothesis was accepted. And I moved on to a bike ride without cleaning up. When I came back, the entire neighborhood was out. Apparently, the rat family came out to feast on the cheese that I left. I got in big trouble for that.  

    When I was in high school, I watched a BBC program called Yellowstone in Winter. The program showed a bison which was struggling to survive over the harsh environment. There was a woman park ranger next to the animal, explaining that her job is to witness the dying bison, not to rescue the animal because the park is there to protect the entire ecosystem that allows nature to do what it's supposed to do. I was so struck by that concept, thinking that someday I would work in a US national park teaching people about nature. I'm sharing this story because some of us environmental educators were furloughed or laid off from in-person teaching during this pandemic and had no choice but to adapt to delivering online lessons, potentially feeling less effective. But know that the media and online learning could be inspiring and a potentially life changing experience for students. It certainly was for me.

    My dream to work as an environmental educator in a national park came true. And I think this vocation was determined when I was born. Japanese parents make a wish for their children and embed it in the characters of their child’s name. My parents named me Miho with the character 民 (“mi”), which means “people,” as the first part of my name. Inherent in this character is a reference to democracy where all people’s voices are heard and valued. The second character, 穂 (“ho”), means “rice,” the staple food of Japan. The year I was born, the Japanese government passed a law that discouraged Japanese farmers from producing rice in an effort to grow the market for imported produce. As proponents of local, sustainable agriculture, my parents fiercely opposed this law. They valued rice fields as a symbol of reciprocity with nature that has shaped Japanese way of life and our culture. By giving me this name, my parents hoped that I would become a protector of people, culture and environment. In addition, my birthdate is the day that the US Congress officially recognized it as Women’s Equality Day.

    With my name and my birthdate, I was put on the path to seek ways of being and living that value what I call 5Es- Empathy, Equity, Environment, Education, and Empowerment. When I think about it, my career as an environmental educator and an advocate for increasing outdoor access and opportunities for all people, especially for women and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color embrace all of these 5Es. 

    I love seeing you work with young people and the way you bring such case and compassion to your work, striving to meet them where they are at and provide an inclusive learning environment. Can you share about your teaching philosophy? (Maybe share your ABCs)

    It's really important to meet my students where they are for a few reasons. First, it calls for a practice of a student-centered approach and as a result, I can better provide what they need to feel connected to themselves and to those around them, including nature. Second, it changes the power dynamic between teachers and students. We can exist in the dynamic of dual responsibility to meet our mutual goals to teach, learn, and grow together. I use what I call Miho's ABC, a simple & kinesthetic accountability practice, to hold ourselves accountable. "A" stands for Aim high, do your best, "B" stands for Being in the moment, "C" stands for Care. I introduce this at the beginning of my teaching and consistently use it as a way to assess where we are and how we want to be as a group. Third, it pushes me to seek understanding of people coming from all different social locations and experiences with a constant self-evaluation of my own assumption and bias. It requires empathy.

    You talk a lot about representation and the importance of centering the perspectives of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color in this work. I absolutely agree. There is so much work we need to do as a field in building a more just and sustainable movement. Can you talk about the importance of directing resources not just towards hiring and recruitment, but towards developing an organizational culture where staff of color truly feel like they belong? 

    I've been seeking the answers to the question and I will share what I think it's important to pay attention to. 

    Your question makes me think of this quote by Maya Angelou: "people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I remember how my co-workers and supervisors took their time on the job or off the clock to show curiosity and genuine interest in who I am and to learn my stories. They made me feel that I matter, that I am part of the community and that my voice counts. I felt seen and valued, and have a place in this community. I felt encouraged to bring something that makes this place better and I have people who have shared values and interests. These are a few examples of a sense of belonging. It's a feeling that is created in relation to one another. 

    In order to create the sense of belonging, the individuals and organizations must value and invest the time, energy, and resources to cultivate the relationship with one another in various spaces. Affinity space is very critical for both white and staff of color. White affinity space can be used for learning/unlearning ways of being, knowing and thinking of white people (i.e. history, white supremacy culture, etc.) instead of talking about how to help people of color. I want white people to talk about whiteness, not about me, and interrogate themselves, realizing that we all need to be free to liberate all people. 

    In addition to being an educator, you are an activist, a filmmaker, a cyclist, a leader. What gives you hope and keeps you engaged in this work?

    I am driven by purpose, not by hope. Hope is externally driven so you seek out and grasp on it. You can lose hope when the outcome is not what you expected. On the other hand, purpose is internally driven. No matter what the outcome is, you have a reason to pursue your purpose and you continue to work towards what you are destined for. For me, my purpose is written in my name - a creator of greater democracy and protector of people, culture, and environment - so all the various roles I play whether I am an educator or activist, are manifestations of how I meet my purpose for the greater good. 

    I learn this way of existing from nature. During the pandemic, I became obsessed with learning about honey bees, particularly Japanese honeybees. I learned that an average honey bee will make 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey before it dies. To me, it is so insignificant as an individual. But I don't think the individual bee contemplates whether their contribution is too small or worth it. Or they debate with each other whether they should keep doing what they are doing or not. They just get to work until their wings can no longer carry them. Yet as a collective, they make up to 100 pounds of honey. That is more than enough for their siblings they have not yet met to sustain the hive. 

    Learning about the honey bees assures me that I'm part of the collective movement that leads us to liberation for all beings. Knowing that my contribution has a place and meaning is good enough for me to keep going. Change takes time. The process is nonlinear. I need to relax. Pace myself. Smell the flowers. Climb the mountains. Collaborate. And...let's get to work! 

  • July 14, 2021 4:11 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Dear Environmental and Outdoor Education Community,

    In addition to what I hope is a restful and rejuvenating summer, this time of year can be one of transition: we watch the sun shift its position across the sky; we make preparations for a new school year, hiring staff and revising curriculum; we await the bounty of the summer’s harvest, observing eagerly as our efforts bear fruit. At AEOE, we are undergoing our own transitions, welcoming in new leaders to our Board of Directors, saying goodbye to outgoing ones, and setting a new slate of Officers to help guide our Executive Team. While I am looking forward to the changes to come, I also feel sadness at the loss that these changes represent. This past weekend I attended an event hosted by Justice Outside and the Segora Té Land Trust, both based here in the Bay Area, where I live. The facilitator asked us to share a plant that was meaningful to us (I chose lupin). After we shared, I was struck by a comment they made invited us to make space for the range of emotions that might have been unearthed by the reflection – and appreciated the reminder that complexity is a natural part of life. It’s always good to remember to be gentle with yourself and with others, making space for all the ways we experience the world. Whatever transitions you are experiencing this summer, I hope they are met with grace and compassion.  

    In community,

    Estrella Risinger

    AEOE Executive Director


    Board Officers

    Note from outgoing AEOE Board President & Chair, Reed Schneider:

    Dear AEOE members and EE community,

    For nine years it was my great honor to be the President and Board Chair of AEOE. With gratitude and pride for all our team has accomplished, I am now stepping back from the leadership team. 

    My gratitude begins with the founders of AEOE back in 1954. From the foundation that previous board members laid, we have been able to accomplish so much. During my tenure, I served with countless board members, some who dedicated multiple terms to advance our mission. To all of you, thank you for your dedication in supporting EE in California. Together we accomplished so much, from broadening and strengthening our mission, launching a certification program, hosting dozens of amazing conferences and professional development seasons, reviving and expanding the program leaders group, and of course hiring AEOE’s first ever executive director--the incredibly talented and thoughtful Estrella Risinger. 

    Two outdoor education programs supported me during my volunteer tenure at AEOE, and without their support I wouldn’t have been able to commit these last nine years to AEOE. Sierra Outdoor School in Sonora took a big chance on a dreadlocked 25 year-old to run their internship program, and allowed me many hours of work time to dedicate to AEOE. NatureBridge, an incredible leader in the field, allowed me to expand my network and build a bigger vision of EE in California. 

    Finally, my deepest gratitude and respect go to Tracey Weiss, AEOE’s Vice-president. She was my confidant, coconspirator, thought partner, and biggest champion of advancing EE in California that I have ever had the pleasure to work with.

    A big warm welcome to Ryan Mayeda, our new Board President and Chair. Ryan is a veteran of EE and has been a dedicated and thoughtful AEOE board member for 10 years. I am thrilled to see him at the helm of such a great board, and look forward to seeing where the vision and leadership of Estrella and Ryan will take AEOE next. 

    With much love and appreciation for all of you out there doing wonderful things in EE,

    Reed Schneider

    Note from incoming Board President & Chair, Ryan Mayeda:

    Dear AEOE,

    AEOE has supported my professional and personal growth since 2011, first as an individual member, then volunteering with our professional development events, and now as a Board Member. It's exciting to be celebrating my AEOE 10 year anniversary as the organization's new Board Chair. I am fully committed to using an equity and inclusion lens as we advance the impact of environmental and outdoor education across California, promoting a sense of belonging as we expand our community, and continuing to support our members just as I have been supported over the years!


    Ryan Mayeda

    In addition to the transition of our Board President & Chair, Katie Andersen is stepping down as AEOE’s Secretary. We appreciate Katie’s many years of service in this role, maintaining our records and keeping us organized, and are grateful for Kori Donley for taking on these responsibilities. 

    Board of Directors

    We want to express our deep gratitude to outgoing board members, Kat Montgomery and Kelly Prendiville. Kat and Kelly spent countless hours successfully leading our Awards Committee and supporting our conferences as Registrar and Workshop Coordinator, respectively. We wish them the best as they step into new roles and settle into their homes on the East Coast. 

    Please join us in welcoming Alicia De Toro, Lizz Atwood, Mindy Schwartz, and Nick Willford to our Board of Directors. AEOE is proud of our commitment to virtual leadership, bringing thoughtful leaders onto our team that hold a variety of positions, from field naturalist to tenured faculty to Program Director. Our four new Directors are based across the state and come from a range of EE settings, including higher education and community-based partners, and represent programs that offer residential outdoor science school, preschool programs, summer camp, the YMCA, and virtual programming. You can read their full bios on our website. Welcome, Alicia, Lizz, Mindy, and Nick!

  • July 01, 2021 4:14 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Please join us in congratulating AEOE's first cohort of Environmental Educator Certification Program graduates! This outstanding group of EE professionals (including residential outdoor school instructors, classroom teachers, higher education professors, garden educators, city employees, zoo and park staff, and emerging leaders in community-based organizations) spent the past year demonstrating their skills, reflecting on their practice, and building up their professional networks. We are proud of the successful launch of this program and are so impressed by the care, professionalism, intention, and creativity the certification graduates put into developing and implementing their final action projects. Click here to see the list of graduates and their final action project presentation title slides. We look forward to working with another year of EE certification candidates! 


    Your friends at AEOE

  • April 22, 2021 4:40 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Dear Environmental and Outdoor Education Community,

    This week has brought quite a rollercoaster of emotions. I feel hopeful and full of excited anticipation for our spring conference and all the enthusiasm we’re seeing around Earth Day (check out to participate in an inspiring and uplifting project encouraging messages of hope for our planet!). That excitement has been tempered by the range of feelings brought forth by the verdict announced in George Floyd’s murder. As a white woman, I can only begin to imagine what it has been like to be Black in this country waiting on this verdict. I do know what it’s been like as a mom and an educator, trying to prepare myself to come up with adequate words to describe to my kids why our system failed its citizens...again. I didn’t even realize I had been holding my breath until I felt the sense of relief that flooded me when I got to have a different kind of conversation, one of hope, of accountability. This is just one moment, one verdict, but I sure hope it marks a sea of change. As you celebrate Earth Day this year – planting trees, picking up litter in your neighborhood, removing invasive species, or pledging to decrease your reliance on disposable plastic products and fossil fuels, please consider taking a moment of silence for George Floyd and for all the other people whose lives and dignity have been robbed from them because of the deeply entrenched racism in our society. I hope that this verdict is just the beginning. That we will continue to work together towards accountability and justice. Because what is the purpose of working towards a sustainable future if that world doesn’t include all of us? If we aren’t addressing the intersectionality of environmental education and environmental justice, of climate change and racial justice – in both our personal lives and professional work, we’re not doing it right, we’re not moving towards progress as a nation and a society the way we should be, the way we need to for all of our young people. So today, as you celebrate the beauty that is our planet, I hope you’ll join me in continuing to ask yourself this question: What are you doing in your life to work towards a more just and equitable world?

    In community,

    Estrella, AEOE Executive Director

  • March 24, 2021 4:43 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Dear Environmental and Outdoor Education Community,

    The increased violence and racism directed at Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) is heartbreaking and infuriating. These acts are compounding the trauma and fear of the past year. To our community members who identify as AAPI, we offer support, love, and solidarity.

    With care,

    Your friends at AEOE

    To learn about and explore the history and context of anti-Asian sentiments, self-care resources, and initiatives to become involved in, we offer a few resources below:

    Asian Americans K-12 Education Curriculum

    Asian American Racial Justice Toolkit

    Anti-Asian Violence Resources

    Mental Health Resources for Asian Americans Amid Rise in Violence, Atlanta Mass Shooting

    Say Something Because Hatred is Killing Us: Dismantling The AAPI Invisibility Problem in the Outdoors

    Self-Care Tips For Asian Americans Dealing With Racism Amid Coronavirus

    Highlighted resource: Bystander Intervention To Stop Anti-Asian/American Harassment and Xenophobia Workshop – Offered by Hollaback! in collaboration with Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC. Lots of workshop times are offered over the next two weeks. Learn more and register here.

  • January 06, 2021 4:46 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Dear Environmental and Outdoor Education Community,

    I had intended to send you a happy new year message, sharing my hopes that this year will bring a return to in-person programming, more young people with access to learning outdoors, and an ability for us to high five in person once again, among many other desired and necessary benchmarks in what we hope will be a containment of the virus. And now I can't stop watching the news. I am horrified and saddened by what is happening in our nation's capital. This is what white privilege looks like. This what an unwillingness to confront and dismantle the systems that uphold white supremacy looks like. It's disgusting and it's scary. And it's a stark reminder that our work has never been more important. Critical thinking, empathy, scientific understanding, respect, communication, and reasoning – these are some of the principles that unite us as environmental and outdoor educators. These are the qualities that we need in our leaders now more than ever.

    At AEOE, we begin this new year recommitting to our mission to advance the impact of environmental and outdoor education in California, which must include a commitment to anti-racism if we are to ensure that all young people have access to meaningful learning experiences outdoors. I am proud that our board has committed to "Develop and implement practices and policies in support of our commitment to equity and inclusion in AEOE's programs, outreach efforts, leadership, and organizational culture" as a part of our strategic plan. We have important work to do. Personally, I am working through the guided journal that accompanies the powerful book me and white supremacy, by Layla F. Saad. I am lucky to have a group that I meet with weekly to discuss our learning and our struggles. I hope that you also have trusted colleagues and friends that you can lean on in your ongoing learning (and unlearning). We hope that AEOE will continue to be a place that you turn to for support and inspiration. One thing is certain: we will need each other in the coming months and years as we rebuild our field and work towards a more just and sustainable future.

    In community,

    Estrella Risinger, AEOE Executive Director

  • August 27, 2020 4:51 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Dear environmental and outdoor education community,

    We hope you and your families are safe. With more than 550 fires burning throughout the state of California, and air quality forcing us inside when we wish to seek solace in the natural world, the challenges can feel overwhelming. Our hearts are heavy as we see images of treasured forests burning, learn about lives and homes lost, and hear about historic parks and landmarks being destroyed by the blazes. We know that many of your program sites are near or in direct danger and we are watching closely and hoping for your safety. 

    Climate change has been named publicly in most leading news sources as a primary cause in the current devastation. We are reminded that our work as environmental and outdoor educators is vital. And our community is more important than ever. 

    We are grateful for you, our network of dedicated educators and program providers across the state. While many of us will not be returning to programming as usual this fall, we know you are still working to help young people connect to the natural world in whatever you can, whether that be through delivering virtual programs, offering small family programs, or as classroom teachers doing your best to support your students through a screen. Know that we continue to advocate for outdoor learning as part of the plan to reopen schools, and are here for you to provide support. Please reach out if there are ways we can help you or your organizations. 

    Take care,

    Your friends at AEOE

  • July 16, 2020 7:54 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Dear environmental and outdoor education community,

    We hope you are taking good care. It has been a challenging time for many of us. At AEOE, we've been working to connect with our partners and friends, working to support environmental and outdoor education providers across the state. Please read on for updates and opportunities to advance the field together.

    Be well, everyone.

    Your friends at AEOE

    Environmental Educator Certification Program: Apply Today!

    We are thrilled to announce that AEOE’s Environmental Educator Certification Program (EECP) is launching this fall! This year-long program (September - June) will be conducted primarily online and consist of work done both independently and collaboratively. The program is designed for educators who have some teaching experience and are ready to take their career to the next level. Through participating in the certification program, you will increase your knowledge and skills, expand your professional network, enhance your resume, and make important connections across the state. We aim to have a cohort of candidates that will reflect the diversity of California's students. To that end, we strongly encourage people who identify as BIPOC and/or from other communities that have historically been marginalized within the field of EE to apply. We hope you will consider applying to be a part of our pilot cohort.

    Promoting EE and Outdoor Learning in Plans to Reopen Schools

    AEOE has been working hard to promote environmental education and outdoor learning as integral to reopening schools in California. The newly launched eeGuidance for Reopening Schools was developed by state EE organizations and the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE). The guidelines provide practical strategies for schools to use outdoor learning and environmental education as a tool to safely reopen schools this fall. The eeGuidelines for California can be accessed here

    Feel free to share with your networks and promote the eeGuidelines with your local school personnel. We imagine this could be a good starting point or messaging that could strengthen your attempts to partner with local schools to provide virtual programming or in-person learning in counties where it is safe to do so. For our formal education community, this might help you to work with you administration to commit to engaging your nonformal education partners in supporting your students.

    Resources & Engagement Opportunities

    Our friends at BEETLES and BaySci are hosting a virtual open space conference:

    Informal/Formal Partnerships to Survive the Impacts of COVID-19, Promote Equity, and Keep Science & Environmental Literacy Alive

    July 28th-29th, 2020 10:00am-1:00pm PST

    More details at:

    This conference is free to attend.

    Note: in the spirit of open space, the content of the conference is determined by attendees. All attendees are invited to hold discussions on the topics of their choosing.

    Youth Outdoor Equity Leadership funding opportunity from Children & Nature Network

    Mini-grants of $500 will be awarded to young leaders ages 18 to 30. Examples of projects could include: online outdoor education sessions; creating gardens that employ young people and provide fresh food; providing outdoor gear to remove barriers to outdoor recreation; legislative action training to advance policies that increase equitable access to nature. All young leaders are encouraged to apply. The deadline is July 31st. Priority consideration will be given to those who have participated in C&NN’s Legacy Camps and Fresh Tracks trainings, and young leaders from Black, Indigenous, Latinx, other People of Color, those who identify as LGBTQ, and those with disabilities. APPLY HERE TODAY

    Practitioner Guide to Assessing Connection to Nature Now Available!

    Are you interested in measuring and understanding a population’s connection to nature? Do you want to know if your program has influenced your participants’ connection to nature? The Practitioner Guide to Assessing Connection to Nature is a 63-page guide, including 11 tools and approaches that you can use to assess connection to nature, and it includes copies of those tools for easy access. The guide is also designed to help you choose the right tool for your needs, whether you work with young children, teenagers, or adults. Download or purchase a copy of the guide here.

  • June 30, 2020 4:47 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Dear environmental and outdoor educators,

    On Friday, I felt immense gratitude for being able to come together as a community during our first ever virtual statewide conference. The day of learning and connection was AWESOME, and filled my cup in so many ways. Yet it was also shadowed by grief and anger and frustration. Our world is on fire. In addition to the hardships presented through COVID-19, the headlines are once again filled with violence and brutality towards brown and black people. In many cases, folks who are trying to enjoy the outdoors, be active and healthy.

    As outdoor and environmental educators, we lead with our hearts. Compassion is our strength. Caring is our calling. And if one falls, we all fall.

    At AEOE, our vision is for every young person to live in a healthy community with access to meaningful learning experiences outdoors. We work to create the future that we want to see in the world. If we are working to make our field more inclusive, we can't ignore systemic and institutional racism. And if there was ever a time to speak out and to speak up against racism and white supremacy, this is it.

    Personally, my family is committing to directly supporting these organizations:

    And there are many others who are doing important work that could also use your support. Follow them. Amplify them. Fund them if you are able. 

    I am a white woman. My children are white. I grapple with this privilege every day. Sometimes I feel proud of my ability to stand tall. Truthfully, sometimes I step in it. But it is my job to keep trying, to keep striving for the world I want to see. Committing to anti-racism is a lifelong process. I don’t always get it right. But I am committed to showing up, for using my privilege to work to dismantle systems of injustice. For my friends. For yours. For my children, and for yours. For our future together on this beautiful planet we call home. 

    I will stand with you. I hope you will stand with me. 

    With love,

    Estrella Risinger, AEOE Executive Director

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