Director’s Message

Dear Friends,

The Class of 2017 is our third graduating MarinSEL class, and I am incredibly proud of the growth and change I have witnessed first hand over the past four years. Over the years, these teenagers have begun to understand how each year along this journey has deepened their own knowledge to help them find their better self. It is inspiring to see that teachers, staff, parents, and I aren’t the only ones seeing this growth, but these teenagers are seeing it too.

When we added Portfolio Defense to our curriculum this past year, it was with the goal that our students would be able to understand what we want them to learn. We don’t just want our students to be able to recite the 4C’s, but we want them to understand them and incorporate them into all aspects of their educational journey and beyond. It has been exciting to go to SRCS Board Meetings and the People’s Climate March and see MarinSEL students talking about their experiences, without being prompted. Creativity to them is not just in the sense of the traditional definition regarding better graphics and visuals, but how they are approaching problems in new and innovate ways. This self awareness and understanding is exactly what I envision every student to leave MarinSEL with when they move on to their next journey.   

Ultimately, success depends on confidence and an understanding of one’s own abilities. And we are seeing our students develop these skills. I cannot wait to see our incoming Class of 2021 start this journey and follow the Class of 2017 throughout their college careers and beyond and see them succeed in the world.

Best regards,



The Art of Creativity

By: Eleanor Huang (9th Grade)

When considering creativity, we often mistake “art” as the pseudonym it hides behind. Even though the two areas collide in some aspects, they also differ greatly from one another. Creativity refers to the ability to produce original visions or solutions, and being able to plan a reasonable course of action to achieve a goal. Of course, the goal could be an artistic aspiration, in which the line dividing creativity and artistry may become fuzzy. However, it’s easily refocused: artistry denotes the craftsmanship of connecting the thoughts in your mind to a tangible product. While we do use these artistic skills in our classes by building model houses and drawing for stop motion videos, MarinSEL has taught me that creativity isn’t defined by the skill of your hand, but by the imagination of your mind.

As we near the middle of the second semester of our high school experience, my peers and I have used creativity in every class multiple times. It seems appropriate to begin my explanation with English, a surprisingly experimental class. Recently, some of our explorations have revolved around word choice, especially verb variety. It’s important to consider how we phrase sentences, as verb choice can give more clarity than adjectives. In verb choice, we can distinguish whether a character ate a pie, or if she devoured it; if she walked or strutted; if she spoke or she muttered. So far, we’ve worked on avoiding “to be” (is, are, was, were) and other bland verbs. This forces us to rethink and rearrange our sentences in creative ways to better reflect our ideas. It may seem simple, but this careful combing has been slowly changing our habits to write in a more complex and academic style. Sentence by sentence, we edit out the overused, mechanical sections in exchange for those with flavor and originality. It takes patience to create a beautiful writing piece, but the end product validates the painstaking work. However, creativity comes in many other forms, and some of the most satisfying successes happen in group work, building on one another’s ideas.

Moving throughout the day in the life of a MarinSEL freshman, we enter the Geography classroom. The exploration of our energy unit leads us to Zero Net Energy Buildings, one of the innovative concepts assisting the fight against climate change. Zero Net Energy, or ZNE, is a combination of energy conservation and efficiency to create buildings that produce as much energy as they consume. Assigned in groups of four to five, we each drew a floorplan for one of the rooms in our house to piece together a small, but non ZNE, living space. With room to improve, we took the opportunity to assess these hypothetical homes and modify them appropriately. Because none of us had worked with ZNE before, we felt unsure of the kinds of problems we would face. Taking it head on, we ended up creating a proposal and a new and improved version of our original home made from cardboard. It took our artistic skill and intuition to build the new version and all its little furniture, but it was creativity that allowed us to arrive there, guiding us through the stresses of the issues with heating, plumbing, and much more in our houses. We did all of this on a small scale, but what if we could create something to change the world?

In Biology, we might be doing exactly that by designing superheroes. At the moment, DNA lessons occupy the class as we familiarize ourselves with genetics. Next, we’ll be addressing an issue in the world that we feel needs solving. Then we’ll imagine a superhero who could fix the problem, and dream up what his or her powers would look like. As a project with hardly any limits, the assignment’s open endedness forces us to think outside the box of reality. In a fantasy world, how would our course of action to combat complications to the human race differ from the innovations we create in this one? It compels us to open our minds to implausible options, but we should also remember that no one would’ve thought smartphones were a possibility before the 20th century, proof that with a bit a creativity and drive, inconceivable ideas transform into achievable possibilities.

Creativity takes many forms, whether it be rearranging words to be more expressive and thoughtful, designing a Zero Net Energy home, or dreaming up fictitious superheros in order to think of new solutions to genuine problems. The MarinSEL curriculum sets us up to develop lifelong skills while covering the subject matter with a fun and engaging approach. Ignoring the standard box of thinking, we continuously internalize an aptitude for creativity so that we can solve pressing issues in innovative ways, now and in the future.

To read more 9th grade student blog posts, go here.

Walker Creek Wrap Up

By: Noel Olson

Green grass, bugs, and a barnyard boogie are all part of the Dixie School District fifth grade outdoor education curriculum. Recently, MarinSEL sophomores joined Vallecito, Mary Silveira, and Dixie School fifth-graders as cabin counselors at the Marin County Outdoor School at Walker Creek. According to Mica Smith, “The entire time was a flashback, which I loved!” Many of the sophomores attended Walker Creek in elementary school, and were excited to experience it again. This year’s trip occurred just before Spring Break, which gave everyone a little extra time to air out sleeping bags and reflect, before going back to regular school.

The tenth-graders volunteer for the week, and must gather permission to miss classes from all of their teachers before going. Several weeks prior to the trip, they also spend time visiting the three elementary schools to get acquainted with the kids. These visits are like organized hour-long play-dates, where everyone participates and everyone plays group games. This helps build a bridge of trust between the campers and their cabin counselors, and helps to familiarize everybody to each other.

Mica Smith and Julian Olson both felt that the leadership skills they have learned thus far in MarinSEL definitely helped at Walker Creek. “I was able to teach them to be more respectful of rules, and more respectful of Earth,” said Julian. “By knowing how to be a leader, the kids did what I asked them to do.” Mica said, “Everyone was amazed at how we could be leaders, but also equals. We knew when to be strict, but we also heard the kids’ points of view.” Mica had an especially teachable moment in the garden during one cold afternoon. “I was trying to explain global warming, and one of the kids commented, ‘but it’s cold out!’ I was able to help them understand that climates are changing. That’s the difference.”

When asked how everyone fared as counselors, they both admitted that at times it was not so easy, but that they all helped each other. “If you’re having fun, they’re having fun,” said Mica. “I danced!” said Julian. They both especially loved when all of the counselors crammed into the cabin leaders kitchen at break time every day, and shared stories and lots of snacks. “We bonded.” “It was great being out there with my friends!”

Happily, the food was good, no one got sick, and everybody had a fantastic time at the barnyard boogie. Only a few kids had to leave early, and when asked if they would go back again, Mica and Julian said yes.

“I hope the freshmen experience it next year,” said Mica. “It’s worth it.”

Business Leaders Event & Junior Business Projects

By: Andrea Taylor

Every year MarinSEL focuses the Junior class on creating sustainable business plans. The best seven plans are chosen by a panel of teachers and community partners and position the entrepreneurial leader to name fellow students to support them as core administrators, marketers, and developers. This year’s juniors presented their products at the Annual MarinSEL Business Leaders Mixer March 30th at the EDG office at Hamilton. The businesses must create an economic plan and identify projected income over the year. While the sustainability ethic is an automatic “give-back” to the community and earth, some of the businesses here identify specific recipients for a percentage of their profit, which is the basic tenet of a Benefit (B) Corporation, and is a laudable aim for the business model to have.

This year there were some outstanding ideas for sustainable businesses.

Happy Vegan Nice Cream, envisioned by Chris Barajas and supported by team members Mady McKim, Morgan Denker, and Lizzie McEligot developed non-dairy ice cream to reflect the growing concern about climate change and the correlation that animal husbandry is one of the leading causes of CO2 emissions. Project Drawdown places a plant-rich diet as the 4thmost valuable solution to climate change, identifying the global greenhouse emissions from animal husbandry to be as much as 50% of total global emissions. In an effort to support a practice of eating plant-based foods, Happy Vegan Nice Cream correctly recognizes that dessert is a need that can be filled without using any animal products. Try their fabulous Raspberry-Chocolate and see if you and your family can welcome a new approach to ice cream.

Live Paint, envisioned by Mina Anderson, Devon Stapleton and Natasha Saccardi, is developed from original recipes for paint that were used over the past 300 years, free of toxins and available to all who want to be artists.  The team researched Native American paints and Renaissance paint recipes to create our own natural paints. Live Paint created a number of colors using paprika, turmeric, beets, and other natural pigments. Todays commercial artist paints are toxic, made with a number of chemicals that can be difficult to dispose of safely, that are toxic to produce, and toxic to use. Live Paints are based in walnut oil and use beeswax to bind the pigment to the oil and create vibrant and lasting colors. They are sold in tubes and everything except the twist off top is recyclable.

Life Box planters were lead by Nathan Roll, Michaela O’Brien, and Ben Pearson using recycled wood. Life Box creates ornamental boxes planted with succulents. Their footprint is negligible, their effect is magical! By repurposing wood from fences, discarded wood can be artistically used to contain plants, saving the landfill, your wallet, and our planet from consuming new wood for flower pots. Great ideas.

Stowaway Book Boxes is a sustainable product founded by Aimee DeBlaauw with the help of Sophia Demitriou, Nicole Reznik, and Katie Serna. A book box is a book with its pages cut out to create storage or hiding places. Put your valuables into it, slide it onto the bookshelf and no robber will find it!  Stowaway Book Boxes aim to help the environment by reducing how many books go into the landfill. Books aren’t normally recyclable due to the glue in books spines, so we cut out the pages to be recycled, and make something new out of the remaining part. It also addresses social equity by recognizing that fancy jewelry boxes are expensive for low-income individuals, and a target for robbers!

New Air is an air freshener product developed by Ester Mondesir, Renee Rodriguez, and Jasmine Inouye. This is a sweet smelling, non-toxic, sustainable solution to unpleasant smells. This company uses native plants and essential oils to support the ecosystem and preserve biodiversity. The company identifies some of the most toxic components that can be in the air fresheners we use, from pesticides to GMOs and fossil fuel based fertilizers.  New Air also addresses issues like waste, by recognizing that disposed containers of air fresheners just add to the landfill problem. The New Air fresheners are created with compostable net bags filled with compostable native herbs. Nice! But wait, there’s more. New Air has a component to their company that many companies are including, a give-back. They are supporting Aegis Corte Madera Retirement Home with 40 of their scented products to help freshen their space. Way to go, New Air!

EcoCoach is an app developed by Madeline Knopf, Paloma Siegel, and Jacob Meshel that serves to educate and spread awareness regarding the eco-footprint of foods that we eat, from production in the field, transportation to the market, packaging, pesticide use and farming practices. The app has data regarding the foods that the consumer eats, and the consumer can focus on finding foods and alternative choices of foods that are better for the environment and climate change emissions. While this app is developing, remember that in fact food WASTE is one of the very top contributors to global climate change, as all that fuel and packaging and then rotting food in the landfill is producing methane and wasting resources. EAT YOUR FOOD AS IF YOUR LIFE DEPENDED ON IT!

BioPaper is homemade paper embedded with seeds of flowers and vegetables. Developed by Michael Kessel, Lien Harper, Varian Etemovic-Bartolini, and Georgina Norman, this paper is an example of upcycling and smart biodegradeability.  When you are done with the paper, you can plant it in your garden! The team created a number of beautiful cards and papers for a variety of uses. Not only does this product reduce the ravaging of trees that we need to produce oxygen and uptake CO2, it has that housemade, artisanal quality that is sought after by the selective shopper. 

How Many Sugars in Your Tea?

By: Samantha Stilson (12th Grade)

The first day I walked into Rebound Bookstore for my senior year internship, my employer didn’t recognize me. I had the good fortune to realize this a few moments into this first professional encounter, scrambling to introduce myself with more detail, but could not save myself from its terribly awkward start. A great tragedy. What can you do.

I did not realize at the time that by beginning something with a social catastrophe, that thing really can do nothing but get better, at least relative to one’s start. The moment after my identity was realized, I was welcomed into the Rebound Crew. Joel and Toni, my intern supervisors, have been married for 28 years, own and run Rebound, and have afternoon tea with fantastically scandalous amounts of sugar. My kind of people. The shop, a total entity of its own, is fairly magical, home to two finches, and comfortably houses rather more books than were probably intended for it. My kind of place. I would come to look forward to each day I spent at Rebound, learning the shop, drinking tea, and slowly becoming magical.

My first task, however, had less to do do with tea and more to do with exercise. Rebound helps to put on a literature festival in San Rafael, Litquake, every year, and my feet and I were thrust into the middle of it. It was through planning for and executing Litquake that I learned about many important aspects of running a successful business, including connection with the locals, persistence persistence persistence, and ice cream. Before working with Joel, I assumed most of the publicity for Litquake would be done online, perhaps through blast emails or a book lover’s forum. But after walking into almost every store on San Rafael’s Fourth Street, and plenty more in Terra Linda, I began to expand my narrow-minded perception of marketing. I was shocked that Joel was on a first name basis with over half of the business owners we visited on Fourth Street, and many were happy to put Litquake posters in their windows or break rooms. Clearly they didn’t mind doing him the favor, especially because he was standing directly in front of them. The strategy seemed to be just as effective, if not more so, than posts online. Together, he and I probably walked the entire length of west end Fourth Street three times (both ways!) giving out posters, flyers, pamphlets, and bookmarks to both local businesses and people we ran into on the street.

Despite Joel’s copious connections, we and our flyers were initially turned down many times. But, as I have come to learn, it is truly the moment right after the original rejection that makes or breaks you. In learning to adopt the infallible attitude that everyone secretly craved Litquake information, and making up excuses for them to take what I had, I broke through a marketing conundrum that had stumped me for years: the ignored email. Forget “following up”. I’ll show up at your house (or business, really). It is incredibly difficult for people to ignore your event when it is your third visit and you just printed out more flyers.

Not surprisingly, walking all over Fourth Street, especially in California’s autumn, can be quite the exhausting endeavor. And, as any good advertiser knows, nobody wants to listen to a hot mess of an intern talk about books. Therefore, as a necessary and professional measure, upon reaching the other end of Fourth Street, Joel and I get ice cream (don’t tell Toni 🙂 ). It’s the best part of my whole day. Quite fitting to end a blog post with. Our walk back to the shop is slightly more relaxed as we have ice cream in tow and generally do the busier side of the street first.

Though I feel like the internship is something I have been doing for months, I realize that I still have most of this academic year ahead of me. It’s a fact that excites me, as I think about the skills I can learn and the tea I can drink. I imagine (and hope) that I’ll be ranting on about something entirely different in the next blog, learning about new things in new ways. Until then, I will continue walking, talking, and growing my magic. Visit Rebound if you don’t believe me.

Alumni Corner

By: Ana Paula Kitos

Before classes started last September, all of the students in Rachel Carson College were summoned into a lecture hall for an introduction to university life. Being in the Environment and Society themed college, we were given a lecture about how the UCSC campus came to be. Many believe that the University of California establishment was built within the forest, cutting down trees and building classrooms. This is a misconception–the forest on campus is actually a second generation redwood reforestation project on the former Cowell dairy farm. I believe that this was the catalyst to the sustainability focus of the UCSC environment.

Currently, the most active movement regarding climate change is the system wide “Fossil Free UC” movement. Fossil Free UC calls on the University of California to divest from the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies, and organizes various actions to catch the attention of the investment office. The actions have proved themselves effective; mid-March, the investment office disclosed that $150 million would be divested out of the fossil fuel industry, with a focus on pulling money out of the Dakota Access Pipeline Project. While this has been a celebrated success, Fossil Free UC does not foresee an end in sight, as the university system has billions of dollars invested in this unsustainable industry.

On campus, composting is one of the highlighted sustainability measures of the UC Santa Cruz dining services. All materials in the food-related establishments on site are either reusable or compostable, and all food waste is collected and composted. The UC Office of the President Policy on Sustainable Practices has set a goal for the university to be zero waste by 2020, so sustainability groups on campus work vigorously in order to meet that goal.

MarinSEL impacted my college experience by directing me towards a field of study that I am passionate about. Without the invaluable education and opportunities that MarinSEL gave me, I don’t know if I would be pursuing the same major and involving myself in the same extracurricular activities that I am now. 

For Sale: Mt. Garland (Clarkia unguiculata) Seeds

By: 9th Grade Native Garden LEAD Group

We are the 9th Grade Native Garden LEAD Group and we’ve decided to sell Mt. Garland (Clarkia unguiculata) seeds. These are a California native and are very beautiful (pictured left). To buy seeds, please email Jessica Reznik at We are asking for a minimum donation of $1.50 per seed packet and 3 seed packets for $4.00.

Requirements for Mt. Garland:

-Full to partial sun

-Low amount of water

-Can grow in most soils 


Green Fling: Second Chance Auction

On April 28th, we had the seventh annual Green Fling Gala benefiting MarinSEL and raised just over $36,000! If you weren’t able to attend or missed out on some of the party packages, you are in luck. There are still spots available at the Hawaiian Luau, Margarita Mommas, and the Blind Wine Tasting. 

Check out the events and buy your ticket today:

Hawaiian Luau: September 9th, $150/family

Margarita Mamas: September 23rd, $50/person

Blind Wine Tasting: November 4th, $35/person

People’s Climate March with Al Gore

By: Mia Stein

On President Trump’s 100th day in the office, I, alongside 200,000 others including Leonardo Dicaprio, Al Gore, Richard Branson, and Bill McKibben, to name a few, marched through the streets of our Nation’s Capital to advocate for climate justice. As a member of the Climate Reality Project, I had the honor of not only meeting and speaking with Former Vice President Al Gore, but marching next to him as well as Richard Branson for the majority of the demonstration. Though it’s often times refreshing to hear someone, especially of noteworthy standing speaking out on climate change, it is so much more inspiring to see someone such as DiCaprio or Gore out with the people, fighting for what they believe in, despite the swelting heat. In light of recent events regarding the state of the climate, the fight for environmental justice at times can feel somewhat far fetched or hopeless, however, after this march, I’m not sure that I’ve ever felt more encouraged. 

Save the Date

The Leadership Retreat will take place August 18th-20th. All paperwork and payments are due June 8th, if you have not already please complete your payment here and submit paperwork to

Family Giving Campaign payments are due August 8th, make your payment here.