As many of us begin to reconnect with some sense of normalcy, I can’t help but reflect on the emotional impact the state of constant uncertainty has had on us all. We are continually being asked to adapt, often with a sense of immediacy. The pandemic, a growing reckoning around long standing racial inequities, a climate crisis yielding drought conditions and extreme fire events – it is often difficult to see beyond the urgency of survival, and all-the-more so for our most vulnerable communities. To move forward, the importance of hope cannot be underestimated. Recently one of my dearest friends Dr. Mark Stemen, a professor at California State University, Chico, introduced me to a newer genre of storytelling called Hopepunk. It focuses on optimism as a way to bring about systemic change; hope as a discipline for practice in daily lives. Our MarinSEL students exemplify this radical hope through their resilience, diligence, and devotion to making change despite global challenges. They have adapted to the uncertainty of the world, climate, and their future. It gives me hope to see their dedication not only to MarinSEL, but also to the longevity of our planet and to innovation around equity-driven solutions to the climate crisis. Students are not looking away from these daunting topics, but instead diving into the chaos with radical optimism.
Empowering students with the necessary tools to be successful in their drive for positive change is an essential part of the program. The MarinSEL school year is off to a dynamic start in person. A week before classes began, our annual leadership retreat took place. Through the gracious support of MarinSEL parents and families alongside program staff, we were able to organize a full two-day in-person nature-based event in California State Park China Basin. In addition to classic leadership programming around team building, design thinking, mentorship, engaging with nature, and community-building, a two part equity training empowered our students with tools and frameworks to support their hopeful vision of a just and sustainable world. Our teachers have noticed students applying these tools in rich discussions around equity in class, as well as drawing connections between equity and local climate impacts in their course work. Meanwhile, our MarinSEL teachers are participating in ongoing training to address their interest in teaching sustainability at the intersection of social justice. As a result, student work is increasingly reflecting equity as pivotal to advancing climate solutions.
Hopepunk is an important reminder to me of why I started MarinSEL – to engage our youth in immersive experiences, creating ripples of change within our communities and throughout the region. In addition to the tools and skillsets students are building in the program, students are seeing examples of climate action at the highest governmental levels. The Infrastructure Bill signed into law by President Biden on November 15th, shows we are making room for change. Leaders from around the world convened at the 26th Conference of Parties to strategize on mobilization of efforts and funds to address the climate crisis we are in. From clean energy funding, to international carbon markets, tackling contaminated waterways in environmental justice communities, to adaptation strategies – there is much opportunity and much to be done. Students may be inspired and lean in to the work through radical hope. We wish for this spirit of hope to ripple out to all members of the MarinSEL community and beyond.
To further support this movement, please consider donating to our program here -we are feeling the deep impacts of the lack of funding from last year. Thank you all for joining us in this radically optimistic fight for the climate.
By Sean Youra and Cole Green
Background & Objectives
Sean Youra, Climate Corps Fellow: Energy and Environmental Associate at San Rafael City Schools
It’s estimated that air pollution from fossil fuel combustion led to 8.7 million premature deaths globally in 2018. This number alone shows how important air quality is to public health. With wildfires becoming more severe due to climate change, the poor air quality that results from such fires will only compound air quality issues from fossil fuel combustion. In addition to being a public health issue, air quality also represents an environmental justice issue because air pollution is shown to be much worse in communities with lower socioeconomic status.
The air quality LEAD project that a 9th grade group of students in the MarinSEL program is working on is designed to allow the students to explore these aspects of air quality and collaborate with other students and community members to raise awareness on the impacts of poor air quality and what can be done to improve it. One project requirement is to collaborate with the community so the group will also work with the school and community members to promote cleaner air quality on the Terra Linda campus and in the wider community. One of their goals is to raise money to purchase air filters that can be provided to schools most in need of them. I have been impressed with the research and level of thoughtfulness the group has exhibited in thinking about this issue and potential solutions. I look forward to seeing the final results of their project.
1 Karn Vohra, Alina Vodonos, Joel Schwartz, Eloise A. Marais, Melissa P. Sulprizio, Loretta J. Mickley, Global mortality from outdoor fine particle pollution generated by fossil fuel combustion: Results from GEOS-Chem (Environmental Research, 2021) Volume 195
2 Anjum Hajat, Charlene Hsia, Marie S. O’Neill, Socioeconomic Disparities and Air Pollution Exposure: A Global Review (Curr Environ Health Rep., 2015)
Notes from a 9th grader
By Cole Greene
The LEAD projects are a semester-long project that we do in order to positively impact the world around us, specifically local areas near us. During the project, we work on our leadership skills as the project progresses.
There are five groups: Air quality, Garden, Sea Kayak, Renewable Energy, and Wildfires. You get to choose one of the groups and create a project related to your specific topic. Every group contains 6-7 people. For example, I selected air quality because I thought it was one of the biggest issues right now – especially in California – and I thought that we could do a lot with the project. There are a lot of options to improve air quality, and I thought our group could have a big impact.
After we chose our groups, we worked on creating a project proposal. We had a few weeks to research different areas of our topic to get background information, then presented our research and goals for these projects. Throughout this process, we work with our LEAD partners, who specialize in our project field. For Air Quality our partner is Sean Youra. Every other week we meet with Sean and discuss our ideas, what we’ve accomplished, and what else we need to do. He guides us throughout the process, connecting us to sources and offering different ideas.
Each year the goal of the project is different for every group. Our goals this year are to raise money to buy air filters for low-income schools, give presentations at schools to raise awareness of air toxins as well as their impact on air quality. Also, we want to contact the mayor and offer her ideas on how San Rafael could be more green, related to the climate or air quality, here in San Rafael.
The thing with LEAD projects and what I think makes it so great, is there’s so much freedom and so much opportunity. We can do something amazing with these projects, ultimately making real change in the world. Especially as just 9th graders, we’re already getting the experience to create a project ourselves and be leaders in the community. It’s an amazing project and opportunity.
By Sean Youra and Nia Jones
After a difficult school year of adjusting to learning virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Marin School of Environmental Leadership (MarinSEL) students finally got a chance to engage with one another this summer in some hands-on learning prior to the start of the new school year.
MarinSEL students were reunited during the summer retreat
Hosted by MarinSEL staff and supported by wonderful parent volunteers, the retreat held in China Camp State Park provided the opportunity for students to reconnect with their peers and with nature while engaging in activities that helped foster their teamwork and leadership skills, as well as enhance their environmental and equity knowledge.
Students work on constructing the tallest tower possible
Over 100 students in the MarinSEL program participated in 14 different activities ranging from an exploration of personal collaboration styles to a team challenge to build the tallest freestanding tower possible using just spaghetti noodles, masking tape, string, and marshmallows. The activities were designed to focus on the “Four C’s” that represent important elements of the MarinSEL program: Collaboration, Communication, Critical Thinking, and Creativity.
Environmental and Sustainability Emphasis
An sustainability emphasis was central to many activities, just as it is in the MarinSEL curriculum that students undertake through this four-year program. For example, the Redesigning Single Use Products (a design thinking focused activity) involved students working in groups to redesign a consumer product such as shampoo or cleaning wipes. Students learned about the design thinking process by going through an accelerated version to develop a sustainable product idea. The main learning objectives of this activity were rapid prototyping and learning to move forward with an idea while highlighting that failure is a learning opportunity.
A student group presents their idea for reusable cleaning rags during the Design Thinking activity
This year’s retreat had a timely addition to the schedule of events centering equity, social justice, and implicit bias. The students were led by Dr. Jeremiah Sims & Rachel Sims of Rooted in Love. Over the course of two days, the students were instructed to define key terms such as racism, prejudice, implicit bias, and stereotype. In addition, the students were tasked with deconstructing their prior knowledge in order to develop a critical consciousness about issues involving race. While MarinSEL students came to the retreat with a strong knowledge of these topics, they were able to walk away with new and valuable insights. These tools and insights are critical when working towards climate solutions because the challenges we face today disproportionately impact people of color, low income communities, and groups of people whose voices are not often amplified. As leaders in environmental solutions, it is important that these students are aware and equipped with knowledge and strategies to raise the voices of those heavily impacted, collaborate with and learn from these communities, and involve those impacted in the solutions.
By Andrea Dunn, featuring David Tow
The talented and caring teachers in the MarinSEL program guide the students with creativity, grace and inspiration every day. It is nice to have the chance to learn more about the excellent and dedicated people who work with our students daily.
Mr. Tow is a MarinSEL English teacher and was kind enough to give us an insight into his life!
Q: Can you tell us a little about yourself? Hobbies? Family/kids? Where are you from?
A: I grew up in Southern California in a city very similar to San Rafael. I went to college at San Diego State where I studied philosophy, planning to become a lawyer. I made a sharp right and after graduating, I decided to get my teaching credential and a master’s degree in cross-cultural education. I also have a master’s degree in English Literature from UC Irvine and I am in my fourth year of a Doctorate in Education from USF. My hobbies include the obvious – reading, writing, volunteerism – and not obvious: I love running, cooking soups, and gardening. I live in San Francisco with my partner, Jenna, and our dog, Penny. My brother and sister-in-law live nearby in San Leandro with my two nieces, Gaby and Charlotte. Our other two nieces, Abigail and Charlotte, live with Jenna’s sister and brother-in-law on the Central Coast.
Q: What were you up to before you came to TL?
A: I’ve been at TL for 10 years, having taught both in and outside of the MarinSEL program. During my time away, I’ve worked on opening AP access to all, diversifying our reading lists, and serving as English department chair. Before coming to TL, I taught at San Dieguito Academy, a public school in Encinitas and one of the top high schools in the state.
Q: What appeals to you about the MarinSEL program?
A: I have always appreciated the connection between environmentalism and collaborative efforts that the MarinSEL program emphasizes. I like that students learn how to make real, sustainable, and meaningful changes in their local communities through leveraging the power of numbers.
Q: What’s one thing you would like students to take away from your class and the MarinSEL focus?
A: I would like students to recognize that a range of approaches must be used to educate, persuade, or suggest a change. Oftentimes, the most important conversations are with people with whom we disagree but must include in the solutions.
By Scott Stenback, featuring Angela Tsai
Welcome to the Alumni Corner, where we check in with a former MarinSel student.
Former MarinSel students are continuing their studies from sea to shining sea!
In this edition of the newsletter, we hear from Angela Tsai, a first-year student at Boston University!
Q: What is your current major?
A: I am studying physical therapy at the Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. I hope to enter the healthcare field to make treatment a more welcoming and affordable experience, specifically for women of color.
Q: What is the most significant difference between classes in college vs. high school?
A: There is a lot more independence in college classes. We don’t have many assignments “due,” rather, our grade (in STEM classes) is mostly comprised of quizzes and exams. I definitely had to adapt and make sure I understood the material by going to office hours, doing practice problems, and reading the textbook. College lectures are also gigantic (my bio lecture has over 400 kids!), but there are many ways to make a big school feel smaller.
Q: How did MarinSEL impact you as a student and as a person?
A: As a student, MarinSEL really pushed my communication skills. From day one of entering the program, I was thrown into LEAD projects and community events, where communication was essential between peers, teachers, and partners. I have gotten good at responding to emails & am proud to say I currently have zero unread emails 🙂 Communication is so important for succeeding as a student because I can ask for help and clarify concepts.
As a person, MarinSEL has given me confidence and strength in my day-to-day life. The program emphasizes the importance of individual change in a community, which is a powerful idea. Through the numerous projects, I learned that I could make a difference. And I think now more than ever; our generation needs to know that they can help advocate for change, whether environmental, social, or political.
Q: What was your favorite MarinSEL experience, and why?
A: Engineering with Mrs. O! I entered the class with zero experience with tools, but Mrs. O is so patient, relatable, and respectable that I was able to learn so much. I would always look forward to coming to class & I still use the wooden spoon that I made in her class. She is an incredible woman, and her confidence has really made an impact on my life.
Q: Would you recommend MarinSEL to an incoming first-year student?
A: 100% yes! If you are looking to explore environmental advocacy, community outreach, and leadership, apply to MarinSEL.
Q: If you hadn’t been in the MarinSEL program, do you think you would have had the same opportunities? How did these opportunities benefit you?
A: The Marin community knows about MarinSEL, which makes it easier to reach out to community partners. Opportunities like starting my own business, researching inequitable bus fares, and interning with the Buck Institute for Research on Aging would have been a lot harder to come by without MarinSEL. These projects opened my eyes to different issues in the community & gave me a good idea of potential careers.
Please also see this article about Angela written by Boston University!
By Hannah Hodgson, MarinSEL 9th Grade
The transition to high school is not an easy one, especially after 15 months alone. Beyond the nerves over more difficult school work and getting used to a new campus, I was nervous to be back in a classroom, with so many other people. To spend so much time with others seemed like a lot of work. I desperately wanted to hold onto the life I knew, even though Zoom school was isolating and dull.
If you had told me three months ago that I would not only be able to manage school, but actually enjoy it, I would have thought you were crazy. Because I spend five classes with the same people, I am much more comfortable with the 32 of them than I am with peers outside of MarinSEL. I am grateful for this, as a comfortable environment leads to my best quality work. The learning and projects we do are engaging and purposeful, a stark contrast to my experience with online school. In lower grades, I often felt like the schoolwork we did was just to check off a box – not because it was really valuable information. In MarinSEL, every lesson, project, and discussion is productive. Not only are classes substantively interesting, but I feel that the collaboration skills I am learning and practicing will help me in and out of school, both now and in the future.
MarinSEL teachers see us as more than the essays we write and the test scores we earn. They care about us not only as students, but as people. They are helping us reach our full academic potential, and are also always willing to help us personally. I am grateful to have the support MarinSEL provides and could not imagine a better place for me to grow as a student and a person.
In the Classroom
By Molly Rosenthal, MarinSEL 9th Grade
This year has been very different from the last. I’m a freshman this year, and it was a huge jump from middle school, especially since the majority of the year was online at home. So far, school has been off to a good start. Online school for me was hard, being on Zoom all day didn’t motivate me much and I was zoned out half of the time. It’s so nice to be back in person and to see my friends, and meet new people. I am so much more engaged in learning now, and a lot of my teachers have a very welcoming presence that makes me feel respected and cared for as a student.
One of my highlights so far was the week leading up to homecoming, and homecoming itself. The week before homecoming was spirit week, where a lot of the school dressed up everyday according to the categories. I also like my seminar in environmental leadership (MarinSEL class) because I get to learn about things I actually find interesting, like climate change. One of the projects we did in class was to find a solution to the water crisis/drought. We presented our idea with a partner and got feedback from our class, which was fun in my opinion. There’s also this thing we do in class sometimes also called “philosophical chairs,” where we are presented with a statement and decide how much we agree or disagree, and we go into a debate. The debates can get heated with big personalities, but it’s always just fun and games in the end.
Being in the MarinSEL program is such an amazing opportunity and it’s nice to be with a smaller group of people in a very comfortable environment. I am very lucky to have been accepted into the program and I have no regrets in joining MarinSEL. Waking up early takes a little getting used to, but it makes you feel more productive and like you are doing something with your life, plus you get to see the sunrise and hang out with your friends.
The 5th C – Community
By Emelia Frost, MarinSEL 10th Grade
Being a sophomore in 2021, most of my highschool experience has been online. It was only a month or two ago that my entire class actually met in person. For many sophomores, the start of this year felt like freshman year. With MarinSEL it was different, thankfully I had already connected with most of the people in my class. I had a support system when everything else was new and changing. MarinSEL gives me the opportunity to connect with everyone individually, and the community grows every day.
At the beginning of this year, Mr. McClintock had us do a sharing circle. This is where we all sit in a circle and discuss questions he asks us about our lives. The circles aren’t too often, only conducted when we need them, but it’s helpful. Unlike school sharing activities in the past, people are respectful while you share and we can be honest with our own troubles. Some share more than others but it is a safe space to talk if you need. Every day I see the trust within our MarinSEL class strengthen, whether it be in community activities or just everyday assignments. I may not have been in MarinSEL for very long but I’m lucky to be in such a supportive group among the turmoil of everyday highschool.
By Oliva Brewster, MarinSEL 10th Grade
As a sophomore I am taking 3 MarinSEL classes: World History, Seminar, and English 10, as well as playing varsity volleyball for TL. There have been many great moments this year, but so far the highlight of my school year was the interactive French Revolution activity in World History, with Mr. McClintock. In this activity, we were split into different roles, such as peasants, nobles, queens, etc. and took part in a simulation of the French Revolution.
Over the course of 3 days, we experienced French life before, during, and after the French Revolution. I think the reason this activity was so much fun was because it felt so much like normal school. While we were online, activities like this would have been impossible to accomplish, but in person it was both engaging and enjoyable.
In-person school has opened up many more opportunities socially as well as academically. I have been able to connect with my peers and friends in ways that were unavailable online. Lately I have been spending my lunch time up at the MarinSEL garden with my friends. The garden is a great way for us to spend time together as well as enjoy the hard work and time the various LEAD groups put into the garden. Overall, the switch from online school to inperson has been great, and made even better by our MarinSEL community.
Applications to MarinSEL are now being accepted!
Environmentally-focused, equity-forward, and project-based, MarinSEL is an innovative program model that empowers students to engage with the community, provides them with opportunities to increase ownership of their learning, and actively apply skills of collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity to drive sustainability solutions. MarinSEL strives to provide students with an exemplary college preparatory experience combining rigorous project-based learning in the context of solving real-world problems related to the environment. If students are interested in exploring their relationship with the natural world, growing as a young advocate, and creating change with and within this community, we invite them to learn more about MarinSEL.
Applications will be accepted until January 21st, 2022. Upon applying, applicants will choose a date to join a mandatory Exploration Day which gives prospective students a chance to explore and demonstrate interest in the MarinSEL program through a variety of group activities, as well as a writing assignment and an oral interview.
If you have any questions, please email email@example.com.