MarinSEL Fall Newsletter

Director’s Message

Dear Friends and Family:

Over the last few years, schools have been forced to weather some intense storms — distance learning, teacher burnout, mental health crises, and more. And the latest California budget is slashing education budgets. Traditional schools throughout the state are suffering, and the need for differentiated education has grown, especially for environmental and climate education.

Recently, I spoke with Cindy Johanson, executive director of The George Lucas Educational Foundation, and she shared with me how “environmental sustainability has evolved from a marginal note to a critical component of discussions in education” And this isn’t just a subtle shift, said Cindy: “it’s a remarkable transformation witnessing schools and regions recognizing the critical importance of integrating these vital topics into their curricula. This represents a significant step forward in educating the next generation about the challenges and solutions for a sustainable future.”

We created The School of Environmental Leadership to train the next generation of leaders for that sustainable future. Over the last 12 years, it’s been made clear that these MarinSEL students aren’t the next generation of leaders – they are the leaders of today. And this is clear from current students and how MarinSEL has helped students as they create their futures.

Sophomore Mia Schlotman shared about her LEAD project focused on making Terra Linda “more green, with less trash and more responsible students.” Said Mia, “We worked in groups to create educational videos, conduct interviews, and make a final media campaign and action plan to label all receptacles on campus and inform the student body.”

Taylor Saling, class of 2016, credits the alternative education of MSEL for her living abroad, traveling to over 30 countries, and successfully starting her own digital marketing business. “I owe a lot of this risk-taking to MSEL,” said Taylor. “The foundation of critical thinking, problem solving, and leadership I received has now grown into excellent skills that help me daily as a digital nomad and professional.”

Best Regards,

Cyane Dandridge

Director – Marin School of Environmental Leadership

My Experience with College Applications

By Emelia Frost (Class of 2024)

As I reflect on the past several months, I would compare senior year to a choose-your-own-adventure book. The difficulty level depends on your decisions: will you take rigorous courses or seek the least amount of work possible? Will you steer forcefully to keep your chosen heading or go where the tide takes you? Will you start college applications in the summer or in the fall?

If not for the adult forces in my life, I likely would have procrastinated in completing my college applications until the fall. And, for me, that would have been a mistake. My applications were due fast and early, with November 1 being the first deadline. Even with working all summer on my college list and applications, I still spent many of my first weekends of the school year drafting essays. It was hard, but it was worth it. Now that I’m managing four AP classes, I am relieved that I got my applications done so early in the year.

The actual process of applying can be confusing, and I sent a large number of emails to my counselor for support. I chose not to apply to schools in California, so while I can’t speak to that specific process, I can offer some general advice.

— Figure out which colleges you’d like to apply to as soon as possible. That way, you know what kind of requirements you will need, especially if you are doing more than one type of application.

— Turn in your application earlier than the due date, especially if it’s your dream school. The college application portals can be challenging to navigate, with content seemingly disappearing after submission or needing information for financial aid. Getting a handle on it early is good.

— Figure out all things SAT in junior year; dealing with that on top of college apps can be a lot.

Finally, MSEL is a great resource when applying for colleges, so utilize it. I wrote my personal statement about my experiences in MSEL, and it definitely boosted my applications. MSEL is unique to Terra Linda, and your individual experiences and achievements in MSEL differ from those of a regular college applicant. This creates an incredible advantage and helps your application rise to the top of the potentially enormous applicant pool.

 

Freshmen MSEL LEAD Projects

By Lilah Harrington (Class of 2027)

One of the defining parts of the freshmen MSEL experience is our semester-long LEAD projects. After being assigned a LEAD project, we work with a peer group to come up with creative solutions in our local community. For this semester, I am part of the wildfire safety group. Previously, this project had spread fire safety awareness in a simple yet informative presentation to the LEAD class at our local middle school, Miller Creek. Our group wanted to build on this work. We decided to create two interactive games centered around fire safety, and to get all of the students in LEAD to sign up for Alert Marin, the app that sends out warnings and alerts for emergencies in our area such as wildfires or flash floods.

Within the first couple weeks of starting our project, we met with our community partners. Our group is lucky to have four community partners, all from Fire Safe Marin. Louis Chay, Sophia Gougoumis, Anai Tene, and Lupe Duran have helped my group practice presenting our project proposal and jump-started our fire safety presentation. They even advised us on which topics were most essential for the kids. This was our biggest challenge — ensuring what information was most crucial without making the presentation too long. It is hard to work around those short middle school periods! We were lucky to have our community partners’ help.

Our LEAD groups have also been working on creating presentations to share with our MSEL class about our topic and our goals for the semester. After the project proposals were presented, groups were encouraged to start working toward our final objectives. Our group got straight to work, brainstorming many game ideas. Eventually, our community partners helped us focus on two: a to-go bag racing game, where the students try to grab as many evacuation items as possible in a limited time frame, and a wildfire trivia game, a “Jeopardy!”-based game with trivia questions based on home hardening and defensible space.

MSEL students are a tight-knit group, and we are learning to work collaboratively and communicate effectively, especially in group projects. This will make a difference on presentation day. Our wildfire safety group is looking forward to presenting our project at Miller Creek and are eager to complete the first MSEL project of our high school career with a sense of pride and accomplishment. Our whole group is motivated to make our presentation and games the best they can be, even meeting over Thanksgiving break to finalize our plans. It has been so great to work in a collaborative setting while making a difference in my community, which is why I am so grateful to be a part of MSEL.

 

Teacher Spotlight: Ms. Mackenzie Bedford

By Marco Gregoire (Class of 2024)

Ms. Bedford attended U.C. Berkeley, where she originally studied environmental science but later switched her major to anthropology. Once she graduated, unsure about what she wanted to pursue in life, she began her teaching career at a preschool located in San Francisco. One day, Ms. Bedford visited her parents’ home, where her younger brother was struggling to understand “Frankenstein” for his AP English Literature class. Excited to help him, she explained the book. Afterward, her brother said she was a thousand times better than his English teacher. This interaction ignited her passion for teaching English, leading her to become a teacher at San Marin High School after getting her teaching credentials at Sonoma State. Unfortunately, her first year teaching was interrupted by a global pandemic. After a few years at San Marin, she took her talents to her new home, Terra Linda High School. Ms. Bedford now teaches 10th grade English, 10th grade MSEL English, and Short Story.

What’s the biggest difference between regular TL students and MarinSEL students?
A big difference is that MSEL students engage a lot more. For example, if I ask a question about a book we’re reading to my regular 10th grade class, I’ll get 1 to 2 hands. But if I ask that question to my MSEL class, I’ll get half the class raising their hands. I’ve also learned that it’s impossible to make an effective seating chart because they all know each other so well and connect effortlessly with one another.

What drew you to teaching an MSEL class?
I heard wonderful things about this particular class from Ms. Lichty. But I thought having another 10th grade class that I could push a little harder and have extra assignments and projects was really fun. Additionally, I really like the idea of the program, the idea of leadership and the constant push of the 4 C’s in everyday life seemed like something I wanted to be a part of.

What have been some highlights or favorite moments teaching this particular class?
Hearing their experiences at Walker Creek was very interesting. Their journal entries were some of the best reads I’ve had as a teacher. They’re just so passionate. They get so intense in our class discussions. Every day is a favorite moment with these kids.

Have MSEL kids taught you anything special?
They’ve taught me that a more passionate class leads to better discussions and better connection between teachers and students. Having kids participate constantly leads to better learning and helps others share their thoughts and ideas as well.

Ms. Bedford inspires MSEL students to engage more deeply in what they are learning, and we hope she continues teaching the 10th grade MarinSEL English class!

 

What’s the First Line of Your College Admissions Essay?

By the Class of 2024

“We’d had yet another California fire season, with ash days instead of snow days.”

“‘Do you care about the ocean?’ I would ask potential customers when pitching about my sustainable surf wax business, Bitchin Surf Wax.”

“An innate part of my identity is connecting with people.”

“MSEL pushed me out of my comfort zone into a place and community where I could make mistakes and learn from them.”

“We are surrounded by a surf-wax company and a guitar pick salesman, and feeling a little out of our element.”

“I never expected mindlessly watching reality real estate TV shows would ignite my passion for business.”

Experience Walker Creek Ranch

By Marco Gregoire (Class of 2024)

Every year, MSEL sophomores go to Walker Creek Ranch to volunteer as counselors for 5th grade students from local elementary schools during a three-day retreat. Since 1990, Walker Creek Ranch has been a place for people to connect with each other, their communities, and to experience the wild beauty of West Marin. Our sophomores educate students on the value of nature, as well as guide them through various outdoor activities such as an all-day hike through the hills and a night hike. Another highlight of the retreat is the Barnyard Boogie, where everyone meets in the local barn to connect and dance as a final send-off before students go back to their normal lives.

We can all imagine the struggle of counseling 5th grade students for 3 days on what might be their first time away from their parents. Riley Greany, basketball standout and MarinSEL sophomore, described how “it was hard at first to rally up the kids to get them to listen to you. I didn’t have much experience being a counselor for young kids prior to this. But by the last day, I felt that I could truly be a mentor for them, and we all made a lasting connection.” Leading young students for multiple days with all their bundled up energy can be difficult, but Riley said his favorite moment of the excursion was the all-day hike. “The hiking aspect was enjoyable, but what was even better was to see the kids having fun with their new friends, learning about nature. I also loved how this hike got all their built-up energy out. It gave me a bit of a break because they were so tired from the hike that they fell asleep so early.”

Other counselors also expressed their love for the constant exposure to nature. Classmate Jackson Wright enjoyed being out in nature, with his favorite moment being the night hike. “It was a very peaceful experience,” said Jackson. “The hike showed me a new perspective of seeing nature while in the dark, and walking through the grass. The naturalists helped me feel like I was a nocturnal animal, scurrying through the darkness.”

Counseling at Walker Creek is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, especially as a learning opportunity for the sophomores. Some struggled with the obvious, keeping the 5th graders in check and communicating with other counselors. One important character trait that MarinSEL values is leadership, and this was put to the test. “I definitely felt that my leadership skills improved,” said sophomore and soccer star Jackson Ahlmeyer. “With only two counselors to around fifteen kids, it was difficult, but we really had to work as a team and communicate effectively to make it work.”

This opportunity truly was a learning curve for all. Some sophomores learned to expect the unexpected. Cameron Gregoire and Michael Klein, the 10th grade counselor duo, were woken up three times: once at 1:00 am, once at 1:30 am, and one final time at 2:00 am, each time with a kid needing to use the restroom. The last night in the cabin,, a camper mixed up the departure schedule and woke up at 4:00 am to start packing up his clothes, waking everybody else up at this uncomfortable time!

Without a doubt, this trip to Walker Creek had its highs and lows, but these sophomores definitely learned a thing or two about leadership, the value of teamwork, and how to adapt to different scenarios. They were extremely fortunate to have this opportunity to learn new skills, and will no doubt make use of them inside the classroom as well as outside of school.

MSEL Student Art Corner

By Penny Carroll (Class of 2026)