The Nature School's head of primary Catherine Oehlman has been recognised for her dedication and determination in allowing children to have an enriching learning experience in nature.
Catherine has been named an Excellence Awardee for the Australian Education Primary School Principal of the Year - Non-Government Award.
"The award nomination is really for the whole of The Nature School and every school that's trying to do something different," Catherine said.
The Nature School started as an early learning centre for children aged three to five in 2015, with the aim of the centre to allow children and their families to spend more time in nature.
In 2018 the school expanded and opened its doors to 22 students in Kindergarten, Year 1 and Year 2, with Catherine as the head teacher.
At the time, Catherine had 20 years experience teaching in independent schools in both New South Wales and Queensland.
"I'm a nature lover and bird nerd and this was a perfect fit for me," she said.
Catherine had been interested in nature pedagogy while raising her own two children, which led to her decision to be involved in a school where nature is valued.
"When my children got older and I went back to teaching in mainstream schools, I found there was a disconnect with what I was doing with my kids at home and what I was teaching in the classroom and I wanted to change that," she said.
I want to be a voice to encourage other educators to do the same, to get outside and teach in a happy environment in nature.Catherine Oehlman
Catherine moved her family to Port Macquarie when the opportunity to be involved in The Nature School opened up.
"Taking on the role was an opportunity to stretch myself professionally and was a dream job of mine."
"I feel very gifted for the opportunity and the responsibility to do what I do."
Catherine said seeing the school grow over the past few years has been very rewarding for her.
"The growth of the school since 2018 has been phenomenal. We went from one classroom to now having 78 students from Kindergarten to Year 5, seven teachers, three teachers aids, two admin staff, an Aboriginal education officer, business manager and myself," she said.
"I'm very proud to have helped build a happy community of learners. The kids are happy to be here and the staff are passionate about the work we do.
"It's a school with a very different atmosphere and the well-being of everyone at the school is so important."
Catherine said she is proud to have been named an Excellence Awardee for the Australian Education Primary School Principal of the Year - Non-Government Award.
"Being nominated for a national award also puts the school on a national stage which is significant for us," she said.
"I'm very proud and humbled."
Catherine now works five days a week as head of primary but said she still tries to jump into a classroom when she can.
"I'm excited to see where the school will go from here," she said.
The Australian Education Awards 2021 will be announced at a ceremony in Sydney in August.
"The excellence award is already enough, I'm very proud," Catherine said.
"I want to be a voice to encourage other educators to do the same, to get outside and teach in a happy environment in nature."
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