Director’s Message

Dear Friends,

We started MarinSEL in 2010 to create leaders that will be able to inspire positive change to future challenges. With the recent events in Houston, Florida, the Caribbean, Puerto Rico, and Santa Rosa it is becoming more evident that climate change is going to be the most critical challenge that our students and future generations are going to face.

Many of us are feeling overwhelmed and deeply saddened by the recent events. I wanted to share a message junior Cameron Evans presented at the Marin Drawdown event last week: climate change is our biggest challenge, but it also provides our biggest opportunity. We teach entrepreneurial skills, so our students can develop new business concepts using creativity that can create new jobs and innovative solutions to these challenges. We also teach our students critical thinking so they can get to the heart of the issue. Through communication and collaboration skills, our students know that they are a part of a larger team to develop solutions and arise to the challenge. As Cameron suggested in her speech, the infrastructure in Puerto Rico has been completely dismantled, so why not rebuild into a green energy infrastructure. There are opportunities now to innovate and move us to a sustainable path. 

I have also been immensely impressed by our teachers, who are bringing in lessons that empower our students on these issues. Students are not just learning leadership skills and the 4Cs, they are also learning environmental justice, empathy, and compassion in the classroom. These students are transforming and developing into compassionate leaders at MarinSEL, which gives me hope for the future as we prepare to face all the known and unknown future challenges.

If you are looking to donate to help those affected by the North Bay fires, the Redwood Credit Union Community Fund is donating 100% of proceeds straight to victims.

Best regards,




Alliance Redwood Leadership Retreat

By: Ronelle Scardina

Alliance Redwoods, located in the beautiful redwoods of Occidental, provided an ideal venue for MarinSEL’s annual leadership retreat. For the first time of the year, students came together as a community where they participated in various activities, got to know each other, and started to build a foundation for what’s ahead in the 2017-2018 school year.

The leadership retreat offered time to reflect on summer and prepare mentally for what’s ahead. For seniors, that means preparing for college applications and paving the way for their future. “As the last MarinSEL leadership retreat, we came together for one last time before going our own way,” said Chris Barajas, a senior who will be graduating at the end of the school year. Chris said that the senior bonfire was one of the highlights from his experience. “The senior class went to a private area where they shared memories, played games and enjoyed storytelling for one last time together – it was a very emotional experience for all of us.”

At the end of the retreat, families were greeted by spirited song echoing the enthusiasm of new and returning students. All gathered to celebrate the beginning of a new journey for the incoming freshman class as well as the ending for the class of 2018. Coming together as one MarinSEL community has special meaning to all involved – parents, teachers and especially the students of MarinSEL.

As the seniors prepare for their final year, they made it clear at the retreat that they will no doubt leave their mark on MarinSEL. Chris closed with how the retreat enabled seniors to have a voice and what it means, “I really liked that this year we came up with future activities for future retreats. It was nice to have a say and leave our legacy with the program. It’s nice they listen to us, in a visible way and we know we are being heard.” 

“THANK YOU” Leadership Retreat Volunteers

It takes participation from our entire MarinSEL community to pull off the leadership retreat and wow – thank you all! Let’s start with a special shout out to Diana McKim for going above and beyond by organizing the flagship event and bringing together all MarinSEL students to jumpstart the school year! We couldn’t have done it without your leadership!

Another big Thank You to the generosity from the entire community who brought snacks (and there were many), who drove and who also chaperoned the event.

Chaperones (also drove):

  • Xander Santos
  • Stuart Siegel
  • Heather Leporte
  • Rachel Stengel
  • Sally Lo
  • Molly Tackaberry
  • Karen Norman
  • Sarah Tiederman
  • Ron Kanter
  • Jennifer Taekman
  • Karen Madden
  • Paula deBlaauw
  • Bruce Bartolf
  • Maya Bartolf
  • Naveen Kumar


  • Dana Testa
  • Kerri Kraus
  • Lian Goo
  • Jo James
  • Karen Stapleton
  • Annika Osborn
  • Christine Asuszkiewicz
  • Devon Carter
  • Olga Panfilova
  • Cindy Evans
  • James Huang
  • Kristen Huang

What a wonderful way to begin the new school year! Thank you MarinSEL parent volunteers!!!

College Credit for Environmental Leadership Seminar I and II

By: Georgie Craig

MarinSEL program is proud to announce that the Freshman Seminar I course will be receiving college credit from Skyline College in San Bruno. Though the credit isn’t transferable yet to an UC or CSU school, that point is being worked on and potentially will be completed next year, said Program Director Tim Bingham. 

Bingham sounded upbeat at the prospect of obtaining college credit for the Sophomore Seminar II course as well. “We’re working on that and hope to have that in place by next semester,” he said. 

Though some parents of Juniors or Seniors might be feeling left out, don’t despair. Remember, Seniors receive college credit for the internship program from Skyline and COM. And receiving recognition such as this boosts the MarinSEL program’s visibility.

2017 LEAD Projects for Freshmen and Sophomores

By: Andrea Taylor

9th grade:

MarinSEL Garden – This project engages students in the maintenance and improvement of the MarinSEL garden by working directly in the garden and organizing outside volunteers who show up to help. This group is also working to improve the educational use of the garden by creating an advertising campaign that highlights the benefits of buying local, in addition to advancing the composting process at Terra Linda. The students will also be working with different age groups and Terra Linda Administration to integrate locally-grown, organic foods grown on campus available to the entire Terra Linda population by working with the food service provider. This group is supported by Global Student Embassy’s Laura Robledo. 

Air Quality – This group is responsible for conducting research on local refineries and vehicle emissions and educating others on the impacts of these activities on human health and the health of our local environment. Students will be participating in citizen science by using air quality monitors to observe the quantifiable consequences of such activities and will attend Bay Area Air Quality Management District meetings to propose solutions for improving air quality. They will be working with various other schools throughout the Bay Area to get a better understanding of areas that are more impacted by anthropogenic activities directly correlated with climate change. This group is supported by Andrea Taylor of Marin.   

Dixie Schools – This group is focused on improving environmental efforts within the Dixie School District by helping design sustainability and environmental curriculum for students, examining existing green policies, and making recommendations for how to further reduce the district’s environmental footprint. This group will be engaging with teachers, administrators, and students to determine their needs and wants and will present their recommendations to the Dixie School District Board of Trustees and Superintendent with the goal of implementing their suggestions in the coming school years. This group is supported by Marnie Glickman, Vice President of Dixie District Board of Trustees. 

Microbeads – This project will work with the Las Gallinas Valley Sanitary District to develop educational materials highlighting the human health and environmental impacts of toxins used in personal care products. Students will conduct extensive research on toxins used in these products as well as the negative environmental impacts of toxins and microbeads on the Bay Area ecosystem and travel to local school sites to educate younger students on the impacts these products have. This project is supported by Sahar Golshani of Las Gallinas Valley Sanitary District. 

Native Garden – The Native Garden group will be working with the California Native Plant Society to support the long and short term goals for the garden with an emphasis on continual improvement and growth. Students will gain an understanding of the importance of native plants in Northern California and will design educational materials and activities for Earth Day events to engage students of all ages with the native garden. They will also be working with Coleman Elementary School teachers and students to begin the process of designing and implementing an educational native plant garden at their school. This project is supported by Charlotte Torgovitsky of the California Native Plant Society. 

10th grade:

Energy Conservation – This project group will create an executable plan to reduce energy consumption at Terra Linda High School by analyzing energy use trends and assess current energy consumption. They will also participate in an Energy Conservation Competition, a state-wide competition where students compete with one another to reduce the energy consumption in their schools while also educating their peers on energy consumption and consumption impacts. They will also work to develop energy use policy change proposals at the school- and district-level. This project group is supported by Bill Savidge, Architect and San Rafael City Schools District Consultant. 

iMatter – This group will be building upon last year’s Climate Inheritance Resolutions passed by San Rafael City Council by helping determine the most effective policy pathways to address climate change. The students will be working with surrounding communities and policy makers on implementation of the Climate Resolution, and may be working to implement similar resolutions in other cities or pushing for additional climate actions in San Rafael. This projects is supported by Larry Kraft, Executive Director and Chief Mentor of iMatter. 

Paper Industry – This project will research options for sustainably sourced paper products and design a proposal to submit to San Rafael City Schools District on purchasing these responsibly sourced products and implementing a transition towards FSC or recycled, sustainably-sourced paper across all San Rafael City Schools. This group will also work to influence positive behavior change in consumers of paper products through increased education and awareness around the paper products that we all purchase without a second thought. This projects is supported by Deanne Clough of Clough Construction. 

Rethink Your Commute – This group will be responsible for gathering information on the modes and impacts of local transportation and will create a campaign aimed at changing viewpoint and behaviors surrounding the modes of transportation that are unsustainable. Students will also work with the San Rafael City Schools District Sustainability Committee, local health facilities, Terra Linda High School administration and other community stakeholders to encourage individuals to make improvements in school transportation options and personal choices. This project is supported by Gwen Froh, Program Director of Safe Routes to Schools, Marin County. 

Zero Waste – The project group will work to improve waste management practices at Terra Linda High by helping change student behaviors as well as the behaviors of the administration and janitorial staff. In addition, students will work with the San Rafael City Schools District Sustainability Committee and other local high schools to improve waste management efforts and processes district-wide. This project is supported by Izzy Parnell-Wolfe, Schools & Community Recycling Coordinator for Marin Sanitary Service. 

Why I Don’t Have Classroom Rules

By: David Tow (10th Grade Environmental Leadership Seminar Teacher)

Posted on Edutopia

When I started teaching, I was incredibly traditional in terms of classroom management and discipline. In those early years, a clear code of conduct was reassuring. For infraction X, there was always consequence Y. It gave me a simple if inflexible rubric through which to discover my position in the class and develop a degree of comfort and ease as captain of the ship. As a new teacher, I was thankful for the clarity and certainty this approach offered—and I am sure other new educators feel the same.

However, while I was clearing my credential, working with mentor teachers to reflect on my practice, and finding out how real students differed from theoretical ones, I also spent long hours after school with the speech and debate team reading philosophy and theory and talking about innovative alternatives for national defense, natural resource allocation, and, of course, education.

That led me to some uncomfortable conclusions. Although I encouraged my students to think critically and challenged myself to develop new methods of instruction, the actual conduct of the class seemed at odds with all that. I wanted my students to do more than just follow rules handed down to them. I wanted them to understand why those rules exist, and be willing to interrogate ones that didn’t seem valuable, meaningful, or useful.

Getting Started

So I gradually abolished formal management protocols. Away went the rules about bathroom policies, eating in the classroom, and what defines appropriate behavior in a traditional classroom. Instead, I theorized about the broad, underlying principles that would define the field within which we could have a productive learning community.

To be honest, I was terrified. I was worried that if I started to dismantle my power, the class would devolve into chaos.

But I also knew my students: They were thoughtful and reflective, kind and observant, willing to take intellectual risks when they felt supported and safe.

So we started with first principles—it’s wise to start with a simple framework—identifying core premises from which we could build a classroom community. These depend on the teacher’s values, the school culture, and the needs of the students. In my case, I derived them from ideas of agency and social equity, and let the students extrapolate from there.

Next, we proceeded to norm that behavior. I simply took the time to comment on how particular contributions, habits, and behaviors were either in concert with or contrary to the core principles, with the idea that students would begin to mirror that level of depth and awareness. I made sure to offer opportunities, usually at the end of class, to reflect not just on what learning took place, but on what community standards were missing, newly established, or reaffirmed. For example, without a school-wide policy about bathroom usage during class, and after I expressed my own disinterest in regulating bodily functions, we started a conversation about how to solve the problem, deriving community standards from it. Students recognized that that if they weren’t in the room, they couldn’t be engaged or prepared, and staying in the bathroom wasn’t really respectful if other students needed to go as well. One student suggested that it was impossible to take intellectual risks if you were in the bathroom all the time.

The same approach applies to homework, often considered a non-negotiable in high school classrooms. In my class, it’s a chance to demonstrate student agency and experiment with what we’ve learned in class. If a student fails to do it, the absence is its own punishment—I don’t need to double down with teacher-driven shame. If a student tells me they haven’t done their homework, my response is, “That’s fine, you’re all right, but why not?” From there, I can respond in a more personalized way and unearth how to best help.

Metacognition and Student Responsibility

The big insight here is that using this model, every class starts to operate at two levels simultaneously. In the foreground, class proceeds as usual, with the teacher and students engaging in productive work. In the background, there is a kind of running metacognitive discussion that is always evaluating behavior based on these underlying principles. Sometimes, this underlying dynamic breaks through to the surface, and we dedicate valuable class time to equally worthwhile conversations about, for example, the difference between a compliant student and a respectful one, or about how teacher-student relationships ought to be reciprocal.

I have four of our foundational classroom principles posted on the walls:

  1. Be respectful to yourself because it sets the context for being able to participate in a community; to others because it is hard to be a student and everyone’s struggles merit your respect; and to the teacher because although it is a position of authority, the teacher should also be vulnerable and learning.
  2. Be engaged, because merely being present in the classroom does not necessarily qualify as participation, and a truly pluralistic community requires all voices.
  3. Be prepared, because informed conversation requires prepared members, and preparation transcends just the work that is assigned—and is closer to deep thought, sincere skepticism, and a general willingness to interrogate assumptions.
  4. Be courageous, because learning requires acknowledging that there are things we don’t know, skills we lack, and ways in which we might still be foolish—which is a scary prospect for everyone in the class, teacher included.

Of course, these are only my principles. A case can be made for any number of others, provided they focus on the conditions for learning, rather than on controlling the minutiae of student behavior.

The reason I find this strategy better than rules is because it teaches students to become active participants in the formation of a community. Rules alone tend to condition the students to become dogmatic followers, while broader imperatives guide them to be critical and reflective participants.

A concession, though: This approach is expensive in terms of time. It requires space and resources and lots of student-teacher conversations. When a student violates the underlying principles or acts in a way that is either self-destructive or hurtful to others, time must be taken to unpack the behavior in a way that respects the community and its principles and doesn’t alienate the individual. That’s a very sophisticated conversation for a high school student to have.

And an admission, too: When I first opted for this method, I didn’t really think it would work. I imagined it as an interesting experiment. But it did work. Not just with my high-performing debate kids or my AP English classes, but with all of them. My students who were burned out and checked out. Those who coasted by with Cs. Freshmen and seniors. Even my English language development students, many of whom have been in the country for less than six months, bought in to the method and grew. They all wanted to feel that their contributions mattered to the community. And if this alternative approach can at least prepare them for a more open, more pluralistic society, then I will take the time and energy it requires from me. That would be a worthy return on investment.

Alumni Corner: Erin Charlton Class of 2017

By: Noel Olson

MarinSEL is lucky to have Erin Charlton speak with us from her new dorm home on the Sonoma State campus.

MarinSEL: Erin! Congratulations on starting college! You chose Sonoma State, and were admitted to a special program. Please tell us about your course of study!

Erin Charlton (EC): I applied to and was accepted into the Hutchins School of Liberal Studies, which is within Sonoma State. In four years, I will have a multiple subject teaching credential and my Liberal Studies degree. I am in the Track III Blended program, and I love my classes! My favorite, Lib 101, is a 12-unit seminar class. We are reading and discussing history, critical thinking, social science, art, literature, gender studies and science. I am also already placed in a local elementary school where I am observing a TK/K class, and doing yard duty.

MarinSEL: We also want to congratulate you on winning the very first Mildred Church Dandridge Memorial Scholarship Award. What does this mean to you, and how has it helped you?

EC: It was a bit of a surprise! I believe that change begins with education, and this is where I think I found a kinship with her values. The award has really helped me, because I feel less financial stress.

MarinSEL: Of your four years at MarinSEL, what stands out as your favorite project?

EC: One LEAD project really stands out as my favorite. We created a campfire talk about the effects of Warfarin (rat poison) on the China Camp owl population. At the time, I think there were seven owls living in China Camp, and we were concerned with declining numbers. The night we presented, there were over 100 people that came-I did not know so many people camp there! It was very interactive with all the kids in the audience, and we loved it. It felt great to educate people.

MarinSEL: What skills from MarinSEL prepared you for college?

EC: I have good communication skills from MarinSEL, and from participating in Mock Trial. This skill helps you anywhere you want to go-it is helping me right now! Also, MarinSEL helped my critical thinking skills. My college program is based on critical thinking.

MarinSEL: By the way, and on a personal note, the baby betta fish I adopted from you-from your Sustainable Project- is swimming in his tank in the other room. What happened with your business?

EC: My project was the HydroJar. It was a mini hydroponic system, where a betta fish and plant worked together to create an ecosystem. It is so funny, but a person up here has one very similar to mine in her room- with the plant growing out of the top! It was a good project with potential, and I learned a lot.

MarinSEL: Do you have any advice for MSEL students?

EC: MarinSEL Lead Projects are based around measurable results. So participate and do the work! When I wrote my college essays, I talked about how I created change in my community through my LEAD Projects. Every college I applied to loved hearing about this.

MarinSEL: Anything you want MarinSEL to change or continue with?

EC: The LEAD Projects are really good. It is a chance for everyone in the group to learn a skill and step up. MarinSEL may want to continue to examine how they distribute students in the groups.

MarinSEL: How do you think you are gong to make a difference in the world?

EC: Teaching is how I’m going to make a difference! Educating people about the problems we face and how to make a change. Right now we are taking kids out of classrooms and into the watershed. We are familiarizing them with it and teaching them how to protect it.

MarinSEL: I want to thank you Erin, for taking the time out of your busy, busy schedule to talk to MarinSEL! Do you have a final comment?

EC: Yes! I hope my sister has the same great experience that I had!

If you would like to donate to the Mildred Church Dandridge Memorial Scholarship to continue the legacy of Mildred, visit here.

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