What a Difference a Mentor Makes!

We all know that mentors can make or break things for people at pivotal moments, and I’d like to pay homage to a most incredible teacher and mentor who literally changed my life.


Chuck Hopkins, photo via portal.unesco.org

It is late August 1973, and I’m suddenly informed that as a university co-op student, I’m not going to be allowed to re-enter the United States to work at Camp Storer Outdoor Ed Center in Jackson Michigan again in the fall. Suddenly I’m out of work, so I set to work!

Following the method of the day that is tried and true, I track down contacts by telephone, (even the idea of the internet is still 18 long years away!), and I begin typing out letters of inquiry to each and every outdoor education center in Ontario that I can find. And then, at 9:30 a.m. on that very first day of school, in the very first week of September, I receive a phone call at my parents’ home in Ottawa. It’s Chuck Hopkins, Principal of the Boyne River Natural Science School for the Toronto District School Board, located far across the province, in the wooded hills outside a small town called Shelburne Ontario.

He’s in dire need of assistants to fill in for 3 weeks until student teachers from U of T can begin their weekly placements, and he wants to know if I would be interested? Well yes, absolutely, yes I would!!!

And when he asks “When could I get there?”, can I really have said, “I can be there TODAY!”??  But yes, I really did.  Oh, to be that young again….. (-:

I pack a few clothes and catch a noon hour bus to Toronto, and another one on up to Shelburne, where Chuck’s wife Barb is going to drive into town and pick me up in the Boyne River van – and take me to “The Boyne”.

BoyneRiver.jpgAs I am riding that old Voyageur bus through the rolling hills of Caledon, enjoying those golden rays of late summer sun, I remember as clearly as if it were today, every fibre of my being is feeling like I am just zinging with static electricity. Not only do I know with absolute clarity that my life is about to change forever, I also totally know that I know! It is one of the most remarkable and self-aware moments of my life.

And it all turns out to be true.

As Chuck meets and welcomes me that evening, he and his Boyne River Staff warmly embrace me as a temporary group assistant, and I begin a 3 week adventure working with young Toronto students learning about their Canadian outdoors, and their place within it. And when those 3 weeks come to an end, Chuck agrees to allow me to stay on and complete my co-op term there at the Boyne, for free. For just room and board, I am able to continue working with some of the best teachers in the world, learning how to teach and help students learn both in and about the natural outdoors, and I begin to fulfil my deepest passion. There is nowhere on Earth that I would rather be. Because of Chuck’s faith in me, I am taken in and I become one of the Boyne River family.

There’s much more to the story, but for now, let this suffice.

Chuck, wherever you go in the universe, may you always know that whatever Cathy Beach is able to accomplish in this world, a significant element of that is because of you. Because you believed in me, and gave me a place to blossom, and to learn and grow.

You accepted me into your family, both personally and professionally, and you showed me a view of myself that I’d never even imagined. In so many ways, you changed the very trajectory of my life.

And the warmth of my affection and regard for you lives on in my soul, forever. 

Thank you.


~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~

Chuck has gone on to accomplish a lengthy list of amazing achievements in his lifetime. Besides starting both the Boyne River Natural Science School and the Toronto Urban Studies Centre, Chuck went on to become both a District and Curriculum Superintendent for the TDSB. And since retiring from the school board, he has worked tirelessly on a global scale for the United Nations and UNESCO for Environmentally Sustainable Development and education towards that end.  Chuck has been awarded many prestigious awards, and he currently holds the UNESCO CHAIR IN REORIENTING TEACHER EDUCATION TOWARDS SUSTAINABILITY at the Institute for Research and Innovation in Sustainability at York University in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.



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230 days and 230 nights

It’s been 230 days since I submitted a major project proposal to the Canadian Government and started waiting for their response*. And after 7 long months, we haven’t received an actual No — but we still haven’t gotten a definitive Yes, Go Ahead! either.

Because of this, because I haven’t known which direction my life is going to go in the coming months, I haven’t wanted to get involved in any other big projects. So I’ve had lots and lots and lots of time to think.

There’ve been days when I seemed to absolutely float along the crest of a wave of high hopes and exhilarating expectations, as I developed my ideas even further, and added new depth and dimensions to my dreams of what could possibly come to be. And at other times, when I feared the deafening silence might be a more personal condemnation of my own lack of skills or experience, I’ve ridden down into deep troughs of self-doubt and self-examination.

But interestingly, in an email to @dougpete this past weekend, I realized that all of these days of silence and solitude have afforded me an unexpected opportunity to examine and clarify what is really important to me at this juncture in my semi-retired life, and to realize some of the very valuable lessons about teaching and learning I’ve learned along the way.

So for my own satisfaction I’ve decided to share some of the lessons my students and my colleagues in education have taught me – from the utterly sublime to the ridiculously inane. And if they’re any  value to you or someone else,  a thousand times all the better.  

(*Since this project is still before the government and its outcome is still unknown, I don’t feel comfortable sharing the details. Fingers and toes crossed that this may change soon though!)


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Nov 17 – Accepting the Ebb and Flow…

This November I am participating in the #ReflectiveTeacher November Blogging Challenge.  I hope you enjoy these posts!

Today’s Question?
Nov 17 – What is one thing that is different from a year ago that you are grateful for?

I’m more relaxed about dipping in and out of the social media scene. If I have time to write a post or a comment, I get it done. If I’m gone for a while, I’m gone for a while. Not that I was particularly stressed about it before, but I’ve finally become very relaxed and accepting of the ebb and flow of connecting with folks online.

I like Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach’s analogy of the dipping in to a fast-moving river – at least she was the first person to share that analogy with me… That online river of information, ideas, and conversations will keep on moving whether we dip in to it or not. It’s such a powerful river and it’s always there for an interesting experience – but now I go there whenever I want to, not because I might be missing something.

The calm and warmth of connecting on dry land in an unplugged world is definitely lovely too.

What’s new for you?

East Lyn River by Nigel Stone, 2013. CC: BY-NC-ND

East Lyn River by Nigel Stone, 2013. CC: BY-NC-ND

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