Director’s Message

Happy holidays from the Marin School of Environmental Leadership! The New Year is a time for reflection, and we urge you to include the reduction of your environmental impact in your resolutions. 

I am so proud of everything our MarinSEL students are doing to reduce impacts in our community. However, as Greta Thunberg said, “It’s sometimes annoying when people say, ‘Oh you children are the hope, you will save the world…’ It would be nice if you could help a little.” There is so much pressure on young people to solve the climate crisis. It is time we adults take accountability for our actions now, and in a big way. We are running out of time to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius. According to the International Panel on Climate Change, we have less than 12 years to restrict our planet’s warming to the 1.5 degrees Celsius tipping point. 

This is where you come in. I recently made a commitment to eliminate our family’s dependency on fossil fuels. I’m putting a challenge out to all of you to find your own way of substantially reducing your impact. Turning off your lights, switching to LEDs, and lowering your thermostat simply is not enough. Can you transition your household to solar? We added a battery backup and our home became a solar microgrid and not only increased our payback, but also had power during the power shut offs we faced in October. We’ve also switched our home’s electricity supply to MCE’s Deep Green program for just $5 more per month.  As we look to replace our stove, water heater, and space heating, we will opt for electric options. Marin County currently offers rebates for many of these swaps through the Electrify Marin program.

We are also phasing out fossil fuel vehicles. The California Clean Vehicle Rebate Project offers a rebate up to $7,000 for purchasing or leasing a zero-emission or plug-in hybrid vehicle. With the rebates, and cost savings on buying gasoline vs. using electricity (especially with our solar), going electric was more cost effective than a fossil fuel vehicle. I don’t have a long commute, but if you are commuting within San Rafael, Marin Transit Connect is an on-demand public rideshare program that allows you to request a ride from any location in its operating limits, not just a bus stop. If public transit for your commute in inaccessible, a once a week carpool reduces your carbon footprint from commuting by 20%. Consider leaving your car at home and getting a ride with a coworker. 

We need to stop telling the youth it’s solely up to them to fix the climate crisis. We need to act as role models and do everything we can to tackle the climate crisis. Our children deserve to inherit a liveable world. It’s up to all of us to ensure that they do. 

Best Regards,

Cyane Dandridge 

P.S. Want to write for the MarinSEL Newsletter next year? Sign up here to write short articles for our quarterly news!

The Importance of MarinSEL’s Family Giving Campaign

By Andrea Dunn

From preschool and elementary volunteer hours to middle school fundraisers to annual giving campaigns, we have all been there when we think to ourselves, “Not another ___ (fill in the blank with another donation request)!”  However, it helps sometimes to stop and think about two things. First, why, in the state of California, are we asked to chip in so much, and second, why does it make such a difference when we do?

Californians are asked to chip in so much because of the dearth of state funding. It’s difficult to find an exact and definitive ranking of where California lies with regards to per-pupil spending, as apparently there are myriad and arcane ways to calculate this.  However, two recent reports (from the California Budget and Policy Center and from the National Educators Association) peg our state at 41st of the 50 states in per-pupil spending. Another ranks our state at 29th, but student population in this study is based on the census.  Some experts claim the census under-reports school-age children due to undocumented parents and children avoiding it. This makes it appear that we are spending more per pupil than we actually are since not all students are counted. A majority of Californians agree that spending on education is a problem.  In a recent Public Policy Institute of California statewide survey, six in ten Californians (as well as two in three parents of kids in public schools) think the level of state funding for public schools is not adequate. 

As a result of inadequate funding, it is difficult to provide anything extra to students just using the amount that the state can offer to school districts.  Parents and nonprofit organizations across the state have, over the years, come to the aid of the local districts by providing money for programs that otherwise could not exist.  Music, art, drama, poetry classes, smaller class sizes, instructional assistants, professional development, materials – the list of what is provided statewide by these organizations is quite extensive.  Locally, school-based foundations like CanDo, HeadsUp, Kiddo, YES, and the Foundation for Reed Schools provide funds per pupil that are between a third to almost half of what our state provides. It’s telling that all school districts in Marin seem to have some sort of foundation to fill in the gaps.

MarinSEL is another program that would not exist without outside funding. Here is a list of what that funding provides for our kids:

Giving to MarinSEL supports…

  • Creation of 4 Additional Classes (fully covered by MarinSEL)
  • Stipends for 7 TLHS Teachers (for extra work)
  • Stipends for 2 College of Marin Instructors (giving graduating seniors college credit)
  • Additional Prep Period for MarinSEL Lead Teacher’s Administrative Work
  • Multiple Teacher Training opportunities
  • Student LEAD Projects
  • Engineering Project Expenses
  • Sustainable Enterprise Expenses
  • Internship Process Expenses
  • The MarinSEL Garden
  • Subsidized Retreat and Full Program Costs for Students with Financial Need
  • Additional Administrative and other Staff Support Time from Strategic Energy Innovations

MarinSEL provides a few ways for you to make a payment to support the valuable program we are so lucky to have our children enrolled in.  If you go to the link provided below, you are able to pay in one lump sum, over an installment plan, or using PayPal. Fun fact – if you have a PayPal account, and want to use this to set up your own payment plan, you can by selecting “PayPal Credit” as your payment option.  This then gives you six months to pay off your balance before interest kicks in (you do have to pay in full by the six-month mark). You can set your own amounts to repay using this method.

MarinSEL families have been asked to donate at least a minimum of $950 to help support the program.  If you have not done so yet, please consider why the funding is so important and what it provides. The state, unfortunately, does not provide adequate funds to innovative programs like this, and it’s important to consider what your child’s high school experience in MarinSEL is providing for them. It is truly a unique experience that is also highly relevant and engaging.

Alumni Corner – Featuring Angelique Avanozian

By Ronelle Scardina

Angelique Avanozian, 2016 TLHS graduate, sheds light on life after high school and the impact that MarinSEL had on her as she nears college graduation. See her responses during our candid interview:

What school are you at? What are you studying?

I am studying criminal psychology at the University of Puget Sound. The university does not have a specific major for “criminal psychology,” so I am majoring in Psychology and incorporating criminology through additional work. This includes writing my thesis on recommendations for treatment of Psychopathy/Antisocial Personality Disorder, taking criminology classes through the Sociology department, and applying for an internship at the Tacoma Police Department, women’s prison, or juvenile detention center.

Do you have a career in mind yet?

I am in the early stages of applying for a job in juvenile corrections counseling. I have this career in mind as it combines my passions with my academic and career interests, which are: true crime, working with kids, and helping people (especially helping people heal from trauma). I have always been more interested in why individuals commit crime rather than the actual crimes they commit. I’m very excited about starting this line of work in the spring!

Do you feel that the internship your senior year helped you?

The internship from my senior year with MarinSEL absolutely helped me in college, but in unconventional ways. I interned at the EarthRise Institute of Noetic Sciences bookstore, learning QuickBooks and incorporating sustainable practices where possible, but mostly just performing customer-service tasks such as conducting transactions. This helped me decide what I don’t want to be doing in future jobs: working in a slow-paced environment nor in the customer-service industry. In terms of gaining experience, the internship helped me boost my resume and apply for the Psychology Practicum course here at UPS, which is essentially an internship course geared toward getting undergraduate college seniors acquainted with their career interests.

As you are approaching graduation, what are your hopes for senior year? What are you looking forward to this year? What are your plans after you graduate? When do you graduate?

I declared my major early freshman year and have been working toward taking all of my major-required classes as early as possible since then. As a result, all of my most intensive classes are out of the way and my senior year has been the calmest year for me so far. Now, I’m able to take classes that are really fun and unrelated to my major, like Intro to Fiction Writing. Having two AP classes under my belt, I was able to take two less classes this year. I am so grateful for the ease of stress. I am looking forward to spending more time doing hobbies and self care, such as knitting, hiking, reading, and camping. I graduate in May of 2020 and plan to enter my career in juvenile corrections counseling, either here in Tacoma or back home in California. (On Lucas Valley Road!)

Did MarinSEL or TLHS in general have an impact on the decisions you’ve made? If so, how?

While the environmental focus of MarinSEL did not make its way into my career goals, it is central to my everyday life. MarinSEL has impacted the decisions I make pertaining to food intake, buyer demands, and waste reduction, for example. The leadership aspect of MarinSEL has been extremely influential in the development of my character and career plans. MarinSEL strengthened my communication skills and provided an environment in which my (overwhelming) empathy could be channeled into hard work. For example, I briefly interned with an organization that focused on the intersection of psychology and environment, outlining ways to support people as they heal from the trauma of environmental detriment.


So cool! MarinSEL taught me when to stand up and when to sit down, encouraging other team members to have their voices heard, while maintaining a leading role.

What are your aspirations for higher education?

I have strong academic “FOMO” and have always been genuinely in love with school, so I always thought I’d go immediately to grad school after college. However, I’m realizing that after obtaining my Bachelor’s degree this spring, I will meet all of the requirements for my current dream job. This is because for the past two years, I have volunteered as a certified Crisis Counselor. This has provided me with experience in handling juvenile (and adult) trauma cases, which is required for the position of juvenile corrections counselor. I plan to test this job out for a while, and then potentially receive a Master’s degree later down the line if I feel that I want to transition into another line of work, such as teaching or therapy.

Thank you Angelique for sharing your experience and for being a role model for the next class to graduate!

Sophomore Update

By Malhar Dev, Class of 2023

The MarinSEL Class of 2022 has been hard at work this semester. The main projects they are focusing on so far are LEAD Projects and a Socratic Seminar on whether the Industrial Revolution was worth all of the associated costs. Each LEAD group is covering a specific topic and aiming to raise awareness or instigate a change in their respective areas. These topics were announced in previous newsletters, and they are: Transportation Planning for Marin County; Extreme Heat Planning; Green Buildings; Waste Management and Landfill Diversion; and Climate Change and the Canal. 

Each group has a different goal. Some goals are to install a new trash system at Terra Linda High School (Waste Management and Landfill Diversion) and to make certain elements of the school more energy efficient (Green Buildings). To this end, the sophomores are taking a number of focused actions including  holding energy consumption competitions between classrooms and contacting the Marin Sanitary Service in hopes of gaining new bins. These projects take place over a relatively long period of time, so progress is somewhat gradual. Some groups will host events or participate in them to raise awareness. Others host workdays to do things relevant to their projects. These can also benefit other students, and not just from an informational perspective. Workdays count towards students’ volunteer hours, which are an important aspect of MSEL’s curriculum. 

On the topic of the other main project for this class, the Socratic Seminar, Natalie Tar had this to say: “It’s a project where groups review articles and look at the positives and negatives of the Industrial Revolution to decide if it was worth it overall.” This project has a somewhat misleading name, as it is actually a debate of sorts. One side argues that the Industrial Revolution was worth it, despite the costs of child labor and environmental damage, and the other argues from a more humanitarian standpoint, with the aim of denying that the Industrial Revolution had a positive impact. Both sides have good reasons for their cause, so the debate is mostly down to the skill of the groups in constructing and defending arguments. Overall, this first semester has been an impactful and progress-filled one, with lots of work being done in the classroom and outside of it.

Junior Update

By Olivia Yoakum, Class of 2021

While the leaves become scarce and more rain begins to fall, the MarinSEL juniors are not worried at all! We are wrapping up the first semester of our supposedly hardest year of schooling and MarinSEL has been nothing but a gift, bringing us immense growth.

This school year marked a journey into a unique course—one of the most anticipated when entering the MarinSEL program. With its stellar reputation and promising outcomes, Ms. Allison Oropallo’s engineering class is a highlight of many a MarinSEL career and I don’t doubt it will be a highlight for many in our year as well. Elizabeth Tervet, MarinSEL junior, speaks to what engineering has exemplified as a MarinSEL class: “ A huge skill to have is communication, and to practice this skill we did a contest in groups of four. This challenge took our natural skills of working in groups and put them to work in a real-life scenario where we genuinely had to lean on each other.” 

So far in engineering, we have learned how to use woodworking machinery and tools, we created and designed a spoon from a single block of wood, constructed a seamless wooden box, and have begun designing our semester-long project: chicken coops. On how the growth of our MarinSEL class has been boosted and reinforced by engineering, Elizabeth adds, “This class is helping me personally learn how to communicate my needs in a functional way, and is teaching me when it’s the right and wrong time to say something.” Elizabeth expands here on an aspect that is vital to every MarinSEL class: the implementation of the “Four C’s” mentality. She believes communication is vital in sixth period engineering and has learned the true timing of it as well. Angela Tsai, another junior classmate, speaks to how Ms. Oropallo transforms her class. “Our teacher, Ms Oropallo,  is super encouraging and always wants what is best for her students.” 

Joey Scardina is just one of the many juniors in our year who has been transformed by business class every zero period. “Starting my mornings with business [class] everyday is a privilege. I’m always so intrigued by what we do in that class because it teaches me a new way to be successful in a new field,” he says. Mike Cairns, a professor at the College of Marin, graces us with his presence each morning in order to teach us how we can make the most of this year’s MarinSEL project focus: personal entrepreneurship. As juniors, we are given the amazing opportunity to design our own sustainable, unique business, pitch it to investors, and potentially allow it to become a reality with help from MarinSEL funds and support. Zero period is also taught by Cyane Dandrige once a week. Sylvie Anderson speaks to her experience with such a role model teaching our intriguing class: “We get to connect and be inspired by an entrepreneur of many successful businesses. Cyane has amazing insight and knows us all personally.” When it comes to creating our own enterprises, the sky’s the limit when endless support and expertise are thrown our way. 

In conclusion, junior year is proving to be a challenging and fulfilling experience that has allowed for extensive growth and reflection as we near the end of our high school and MarinSEL career.

MarinSEL Students Lead Climate Strike at Terra Linda High School 

By Harita Kalvai, Class of 2023

To anyone who isn’t informed, December 6th might have seemed like a normal day. But it was, in fact, much more important than any other day. On December 6th, 2019, we stood up to our political leaders to show them that the way they are handling our climate crisis is not the right way to do it. Greta Thunberg also talked to the UN—a goal she’s had for a very long time. Many cities all across the country  held peaceful protests to show their awareness for climate change, including San Rafael. The MarinSEL sophomore class put their own spin on the protests and decided to hold a protest at school. This way, students could support the movement without having to deal with missing classes and making up work. But it wasn’t that easy to organize, as they had to consider a lot of things.

The first thing that they had to do was organize it, which involved a lot of advertising. Classes and teachers were informed that this strike would be happening. Finally, kids from all grades came to the protest, many not even in MarinSEL. There was even the occasional teacher. They did the usual protest chants, and some even help up posters. Though the protest was not the largest, it was still important as it showed people’s support for such a big political issue. Some people even decided to miss school and go to the bigger Sunrise Movement protest downtown. This protest was huge and showed people’s passion for raising awareness. It started from 4th street in San Rafael, and many people went to see it. Some even took off from work to be there, and most were holding up posters. According to students present there, this was a big event, and the support of everyone in their community made them feel like their voice mattered.

I have also done an anonymous survey on aspects of the climate strike. The first thing I asked was the purpose of doing it. The sophomores explained that they felt that everyone should have a voice that should not be diminished, even if you are at school. I also asked them how they felt about young people doing protests, and they said it was very important. We are the generation that will have to deal with climate change being a problem rather than a threat, and that this is why we should be aware of it. They also told me that young people making a difference is so important in gaining the respect of elders.

To summarize, the protests held on December 6th were important in raising awareness for the Climate Crisis. No matter how small or big the protests were, every voice made a difference.

Bioneers Conference Inspires Hope in Local Youth

By Emi Takaoka, Class of 2022

Annually, there is a large conference called Bioneers, hosted at the Civic Center fairgrounds in San Rafael. It has attracted a diverse group of people that are impassioned and dedicated to pioneering innovations and solutions to solve the world’s ongoing climate crisis. This year, I was lucky enough to be one of the students selected to attend the event, and, while there, I was soon immersed in the many talks and workshops that were offered. One of the most unique things about Bioneers is that it strives to not be just an average informational seminar about the depressing state of our climate and communities. Instead, it brings influential young people and activists together to interact with local youth. For example, I attended a teen workshop that had an open dialogue where students could speak about how the issues of climate have directly affected them. It was very engaging and interesting to hear all of the speakers’ personal stories, and about their main focus and goals relating to the environment. For instance, one woman talked about what it was like growing up as an indigenous person, going from multiple foster homes until she ended up in a more stable situation. She wrote a book about her experiences, focusing on her culture’s close relationship to the Earth. Another speaker talked about how her favorite species of oak tree was slowly dying off due to a new disease. She then spread awareness on ways to preserve them. 

Additionally, Bioneers is striving to turn to a more solution-based approach to tackling world issues. For instance, there were many presentations surrounding ideologies from the increasingly relevant book: Drawdown, written by Paul Hawkens, a prevalent environmentalist and activist. The book outlines the specific ways that we can all work together to eventually reach the goal of lowering greenhouse gas emissions. During Hawkens’ presentation, he addressed some of the most common concerns that many people have when it comes to thinking about bigger-picture items, like how we could ‘reach the point of no return’ in the next decade, or rather, when climate change inevitably becomes permanently damaging to the fragile microcosms that exist all around the planet. He wanted to try and break down common feelings of powerlessness in the face of such complex issues. While frequently referencing Drawdown in the process, he made the issues seem more manageable and suggested local solutions that people can work on on a community-wide scale. Some of the solutions he mentioned were growing at least some of your own food, eating a plant rich diet, and strangely enough, buying a better refrigerator.

Again, Bioneers has done an excellent job of integrating a wide variety of people from different cultures and from many walks of life. On the second day of Bioneers, there was an indigenous women and women empowerment seminar. During the talk, various women spoke about their experiences and key events of their lives, and how the Earth was interconnected with these experiences. It was interesting to see how other people had their own individual appreciation and relationship with the planet and how it gives to us, and how we must value it in that sense. Not only did this seminar in particular highlight some of the struggles and power of minorities and women, the climate and nature were also tied in. Overall, my experience at Bioneers was thought-provoking, and through hearing these people share their life stories and wisdom, it helped alleviate some of the hopelessness that I once felt in the face of climate change. 

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Upcoming Events
MarinSEL Applications Due
Saturday, January 18th, 2020
Tell your family friends with 8th graders!
Green Fling
Saturday, February 29th from 5:30PM-10:30PM
Marin JCC
Early Bird tickets available for $100. 
Tickets here