About Us

Our Vision

We aspire to promote and facilitate the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional development of children through meaningful interactions in the natural environment. Through exploration, inquiry, reflection and community building we strive to create a positive learning environment that promotes achievement and development of lifelong skills.

Our Goals

  • Reconnect children with nature through play, inquiry, and exploration

  • Encourage healthy active living

  • Promote environmental awareness and appreciation

  • Develop strong collaboration, communication, and problem-solving skills

  • Offer low student to adult ratios allowing for mentorship and student-led learning

Our Team

BRAD GRAVES (Director), best known as "Mosquito", is an Ontario certified teacher who has a passion for outdoor & physical education, conservation, & environmental sustainability. His experience in educating youth extends over various environments, including teaching in schools, coaching, instructing swimming and ski lessons, and managing Dogwood Acres Camp. Brad's love of sports, sense of adventure, and exploring the outdoors has provided the perfect combination of interests to develop a nature-based mentorship program.

MICHELLE GRAVES (Director), best known as "Doe", is an Ontario certified teacher who is passionate about working with youth to increase their awareness of the environment by simply spending time in the outdoors and reconnecting with nature. Through her experiences in the classroom, various children’s camp settings, and outdoor education programs, she has recognized the value of outdoor time for children to explore, play, and learn through meaningful, inquiry-based, and child-led interactions and experiences. Michelle is an advocate for ongoing learning, positive character development, and youth leadership.

GILLIAN GLOVER-SAMS, best known as "Sitka", has a love for the outdoors and is passionate about education. Her honours bachelor’s degree in Environment & Resource Sustainability, with a minor in Geography, has equipped her well to share knowledge about the crucial role we all play in protecting the environment. Gillian realized she desired a career in education after completing placements with numerous organizations as a camp counsellor, museum teacher/interpreter and outdoor education instructor. She is particularly passionate about fostering children’s developmental growth through outdoor play, utilizing manipulatable objects, controlled risk, group work & inquiry-based learning. Gillian loves strengthening children’s connection to the environment, especially when incorporating her passion for sustainability, Indigenous-settler relations and plant ID!

MILA HAYNOS-OWEN, best known as "Scooter", has a Masters Degree in Communication and has been involved in teaching for over 25 years. Experiential learning as well as living books are her passion followed by environmental studies and the arts. After guiding her own three children through 14 years of homeschooling, Mila is excited to continue the journey of nurturing young explorers on a path of learning, discovery and adventure in the beautiful forest school environment. When not in the forest, Mila tends to her family eco-lavender farm (Lavender-Blu), and is a member of the Scugog Arts supporting, growing and promoting a variety of local art events.

JANELLE HUDGIN, best known as "Clover", grew up tracking animals, camping, roaming the beaches of Lake Huron and crafting. Her love for the outdoors flourished throughout the years as she has grown a deep understanding of the therapeutic benefits of nature engagement for all ages. After obtaining a degree in Recreation and Leisure Studies with therapeutic specialization from Brock University, she has spent over a decade facilitating programming to improve quality of life through play and exploration of one’s passions. Janelle’s favourite activities include foraging for plants, geeking out with field guides, gardening and the arts. You will often find her tending to Huggydubby Homestead, her forested acreage where she and her husband guide their children along a journey of learning self-sustainability, environmental stewardship, and adventure. Janelle is excited to provide opportunities for children to explore and engage in the forest school environment.

RHIANNON LACE, best known as "Owl", is an ecosystem management technician graduate from Sir Sandford Fleming College School of Environmental and Natural Resource Sciences. She has always had a strong and growing passion for conservation and wildlife across Ontario and worldwide. Rhiannon’s goal is to educate youth and offer unique opportunities for hands on learning in an outdoor environment. She is grateful to be a part of each child's learning experience and she values what she can learn from them as well. She believes that the more that people understand, learn and connect with nature, the more they will care for it.

LORI MEZZAVILLA, best known as "Otter", is an Ontario certified teacher who has a passion and enthusiasm for the natural world and is constantly looking to explore and learn more about the environment. From a young age she has been inspired by passionate teachers who exemplified what it means to bring learning to life and she aspires to do the same. Lori is eager to share her excitement and passion for the natural world by educating youth in a fun and hands-on way.

ROBIN SCHISLER, best known as "Robin", has a Bachelor of Education as well as a Bachelor of Fine Arts. She has been fortunate enough to split her time between being a passionate educator and a professional actor. Teaching in both the public and private sector, Robin feels strongly that regular connection with nature is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children. Her background in the arts has been a huge asset in fostering empathy, collaboration, and social skills in the classroom and in the woods.

RACHEL SCOTT, best known as "Sunflower", is an Ontario certified teacher with an undergraduate degree in Sociology. Rachel has a strong passion for working with children in non-traditional educational settings. Her teaching and educational experiences include ABA therapy, classroom teaching, childcare, outdoor education, Ontario Early Years Programs, camp, coaching, and tutoring. Rachel’s favourite part about working with children is the knowledge we gain about them while observing them through inquiry and play-based learning in a natural environment. Rachel lives an active lifestyle and spends as much time outdoors as she can. If you can’t find her at the hockey arena or ball diamond, you will find her connecting with family and friends around the camp fire.

History

Crossley Aquatics Ltd: Dogwood Acres operated as a family run, Summer Day Camp for over 15 years, providing exceptional swimming lessons, leadership and environmental awareness training. It began as a small venture offering swimming lessons to children during the summer who soon expressed interest in wanting to stay and play in the 57 acres of private park which has mixed forests, creeks, and ponds. The camp program transformed over the years, going from 20 campers each week up to 70 throughout July & August.

In September 2017, Brad & Michelle Graves, better known as "Mosquito & Doe", took a leap outside of the box to combine their love of educating and mentorship with their summer camp experiences, researched the forest school movement, and started Crossley Aquatics: Dogwood Acres Forest School. What began as a single class, made up of 6 children attending 1 day per week, has now grown to programs being offered 5 days per week with 20 - 30 children each day and an incredible facilitator team, each with unique skills, knowledge and personalities.

While this past year of the COVID-19 pandemic has been no easy feat, programs have continued to grow and evolve and September 2021 marks the official rebrand as Dogwood Forest, operating as a separate entity from Crossley Aquatics. We are grateful to our Dogwood community and all those who have shared our programs, encouraging words, and supported this dream of providing nature-based mentorship learning opportunities to children and families.

Thanks for being here and we look forward to connecting!