Director’s Message

Greetings MarinSEL Families and Supporters,

With the 2015-16 academic year in full swing, I want to extend a warm welcome to all of our returning students, and to our new students and faculty. As MarinSEL continues to grow and evolve, we are thrilled to welcome: a new Freshman class of 30 students; new teachers- David Tow (10th grade Environmental Leadership Seminar), Randy Baker (11th grade U.S. History), and Alex Robins (10th grade World History); and a new interim TL Principal Katy Dunlap.

In addition to new faculty, this year at MarinSEL we have enhanced our core program approaches. We are expanding the use of our 4 Cs rubric (collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity) to extend to all MarinSEL courses and projects. We have also raised the level of Design Thinking that the environmental engineering students practice as they gain empathy by meeting with 2nd graders from Vallecito Elementary school to design and build playhouses.

The new year is always an exciting time as new projects begin (of which you will shortly read about) and as we lay the foundation for positive change and growth throughout the year.

One of our particularly exciting new ventures for this school year was when eleven MarinSEL students traveled to Miami, Florida to attend Al Gore’s Climate Reality Leadership Corps training from September 28th – 30th. Of the 12,000 attendees, MarinSEL accounted for part of the 50 total student representatives. Braving flooded Miami, equipped with their own business cards, these students gathered and networked with professionals from across the world. They bravely and boldly represented their school and ideals, discussing climate science and potential action. These newly established Climate Reality ambassadors are now preparing to deliver their own set of climate presentations, with a goal to engage every student at Terra Linda High School! We hope you will join us at the Marinwood Community Center on November 18th at 5PM for the first round of presentations.

What a year this will be, welcome once more to our new faces – we are thrilled you are here.



Please connect with us online at our newly re-designed website, on Facebook and on Twitter.


Upcoming Events

Shadow Days (10/26, 11/2, 11/9, 11/16, 11/23, 12/7 at TLHS): Shadow Days are an excellent opportunity for prospective students to get an understanding of what it is like to be apart of the MarinSEL community through shadowing existing students, hearing about the program from MarinSEL’s lead teacher, and asking questions to current teachers and students. When attending a MarinSEL Shadow Day, prospective students will be paired with a MarinSEL student host ambassador and attend four MarinSEL classes.  If you know of any current 8th grade students that might be interested in MarinSEL, they can sign-up for any of the upcoming Shadow Days though our website at:  

Halloween Blind Wine Tasting (10/30 at 7:00 PM): Join us for an exciting evening of wine tasting, socializing and fun. Support MarinSEL while connecting with MarinSEL’s director, teachers and families. We’ll have a variety of wines — your job is to see if you can taste the difference within each group! Nibbles and fun provided. Please note, this is a non-competitive wine tasting event! Register online at

Open House (11/16 at 6:30 PM at TLHS):  MarinSEL invites all students and families to attend our Open Houses at TLHS!  Open House will feature a presentation from MarinSEL Executive Director, Cyane Dandridge, followed by a student-led tour.  

Exploration Days (1/30/16 and 1/31/16 at TLHS):  Exploration Days are for prospective students that have submitted their application to MarinSEL and are seeking admission into the program.   These days allow MarinSEL staff and applicants to get to know each other through participation in a series of activities.  Students looking to attend MarinSEL are required to attend one Exploration Day.  At the Exploration Day, the MarinSEL Admission Committee will review applicant and family information and provide applicants with an opportunity to explore and demonstrate their interest in the MarinSEL program.  

2015/16 Westminster Woods Leadership Retreat

By Noel E. Olson


Hot smoky skies and heavy summer traffic was the climate reality of my journey to Westminster Woods in Occidental, where the 2015/16 MSEL Leadership Retreat was held. As a freshman parent, I did not know what to expect when my family drove into the wooded camp for Sunday pick-up. The first surprise was an absence of air pollution when we got out of the car. It was just hot. The second surprise was that all of the students there appeared very connected and bonded to each other.

We wound our way through the shady campus, and spotted a grassy area where smiling teenagers were casually hanging out in loose groups, playing Gaga Ball, or just goofing around and laughing. Clearly, the mood was easy and happy, and when everyone adjourned to the campfire/amphitheater for the closing presentation, I was thrilled hearing these kids share what made their retreat really meaningful. What stood out to me were the stories of shared experience. Whether it was cheering other students on to complete a prescribed challenge, stargazing in a cargo net, or hammering out differences by talking late into the night, these teens cared about each other.

Sure, the early morning hike wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but they all did it anyway. Maybe the Lion’s Leap challenge course was terrifying for some, but they all overcame their fears together. Perhaps fabric art wasn’t in anyone’s personal wheelhouse, but everyone explored quilting and created together. Teams of students rotated through swimming, theater/improv, ropes challenge courses and workshops. Matt Pearson’s Design Thinking presentation invited kids to gain empathy as one important aspect of exploring and refining a design challenge. He accomplished this by creating what he called “empathy suits.”  The “suits” were not actual suits (as in coat and tie) but were modifications worn by students to create impairment to the physical body. Some wore blindfolds or earmuffs, some had their knees taped together, others had an arm tied behind their back. They were then asked to navigate through stations as a team. I can only imagine how difficult wearing the “suit” was, but, down-shifting from “Warp Teen Speed” to painstaking careful motion sounds like a prescription for mindfulness and reflection, as well as empathy.

Songs written and performed by each grade marked the end of the retreat, and their exuberance and simple joy lingered after the official close of camp. We said our goodbyes and walked the labyrinth of interesting earthwork mandalas, pausing to enjoy the different materials and designs before heading home. My MSEL freshman returned from Westminster Woods energized, connected, curious, and ready for high school. 


MSEL Students Leap Into LEAD Projects

As the school year begins, MarinSEL Freshmen and Sophomores have leaped with abandon and energy into their LEAD (Leadership and Environmental Action Development) projects. These projects are a key component in the MSEL mission to create environmental leaders, according to Sara Frack, MSEL Science teacher and LEAD coordinator. “Through working on the projects, we are developing their leadership skills and specifically their ability to lead in protecting the environment,” Frack said.

These students are using the four Cs – Creativity, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, and Communication – to explore local environmental issues and develop solutions. This project-based learning enables the MSEL students to gain knowledge and skill in investigating and responding to engaging and complex problems.

“It’s so exciting to be able to find solutions to real-world problems. Not just issues we read about in our textbooks,” said MSEL student Miranda Craig, who is a member of the Zero Waste Through Administrative Change project.


The Freshmen projects this year are:

MarinSEL Garden and Chicken Coops will maintain and improve the MarinSEL garden and prepare for the organization and supervision of chickens. The students are: Owen Bartolf, Jackson Darby, Noelle Habashi, John Irish, Ben Kanter, and Ally Teper. Global Student Embassy’s Jonathan Kaufman is their community partner and Emma Blatcher is the parent volunteer.

Civic Center Lagoon and Floating Island will research floating island technology and native plants in order to design and create a floating island. The island will restore the water quality of the Civic Center Lagoon and create habitat for wildlife. The students are: Elly Blatcher, Evan Gabbard, Max Manwaring-Mueller, Cole Parker, Ben Wagner, and Sophie Yoakum. The Gallinas Creek Watershed Council is the community partner and Cesar Leglava is the parent volunteer.

Zero Waste through Behavior Change will educate the TLHS community on the countless benefits of waste reduction and diversion through targeted campaigns. The students are: Claire Barbiero, Erin McDaniel, Julien Olson, Ana Ostrovsky, Liza Parfilova, and Mica Smith. Marin Sanitary is the community partner and Rachel Pound is the parent volunteer.

China Camp Outdoor Education will create an interactive and inquiry-based learning display with an action-oriented activity to preserve the diverse wildlife and natural environment of China Camp State Park.  The students are: Ava Abeck, Gia Asher-Lagleva, Luke Berkley, Gracen Evans DeRaffele, Charles Smith, and Sawyer Taylor. Friends of China Camp is the community partner and Alice Ostrovsky is the parent volunteer.

Zero Waste through Administrative Change will work with the school’s administration to influence policy and improve the waste system at TLHS. The students are: Miranda Craig, Cameron Evans, Myla Gupta, Jillian Hickey, Joseph Huant, and Hayden Nuyens. Zero Waste Marin is the community partner and David Kessel is the parent volunteer.


The Sophomore projects and groups for 2015 are:

Energy Efficiency Demonstration Room is a partnership with Marin Clean Energy to encourage community buy-in in regards to more responsible domestic energy decisions. They’ll be developing and building a demo room for the new storefront facility. The students are: Ben Blum, Maya Carter, Lien Harper, and Esther Mondesir. Marin Clean Energy is the community partner and this group needs a parent volunteer.

Library Native Garden wants to grow – no pun intended – the presence of native plants on campus. These students are keeping sustainability and responsible agricultural techniques in mind. They’ll do this by determining soil conditions, irrigation options, and ultimately, the most appropriate garden theme. The students are: Rene Rodriguez, Natasha Saccardi, Paloma Siegel, Devon Stapleton, and Patrick Swallow. Marin California Native Plant Society is the community partner and Cindy Poliseri is the parent volunteer.

Micro-Plastics in Local Restaurants is doing a lot of grassroots work to reduce or eliminate the presence of single-use plastic flatware and materials at local restaurants. The goal is to make consumers more aware about the plastics they’re using. Hopefully, that awareness will lead to more conscientious consumers and less use of the flatware. The students are: Aimee de Blauuw, James La Rue, Lizzi McEligot, Mady McKim, Georgina Norman, and Ben Pearson. San Rafael Clean is the community partner and Matt O’Brien is the parent volunteer.

Toxins in Consumer Products is using the issue of microbeads – small plastic bits – in consumer products as a jumping off point to research and develop more environmentally friendly and consumer safe personal care goods.  The students are: Chris Barajas, Morgan Denker, Jasmine Inouye, Jacob Meshel, Michaela O’Brien, and Nicole Reznik. Las Gallinas Sanitary District is the community partner and Gabrielle Taylor is the parent volunteer.

Alternative Transportation is taking the LEAD project from last year that got the zero period bus established to the next level. They are looking for innovative ways to increase bus ridership and reduce single-occupancy commuters. This group will also be studying ways to increase carpooling, biking, and walking to school. The students are: Mina Anderson, Varian Bartolini, Michael Kessel, Nathan Roll, and Katie Serna. Safe Routes to School is the community partner and Nadia Tarzi-Saccardi is the parent volunteer.

These student groups have quite a journey ahead of them. Currently, they’re working on their research papers and presentations.  Soon, they will start the LEAD project proposal process. And from there on out, they will in the midst of the execution process. 

After the projects are completed, the goal is that these real-world solutions become self-perpetuating initiatives, or that subsequent LEAD projects can build upon them. There is, after all, always more to do. Look for an update in the next MSEL newsletter. 


Ecuador Trip Expands Horizons, Counters Climate Change, Cuts Your Taxes

By Georgie Craig

Do you want your child to combat climate change? Do you want your student to help reforest an area where money and poverty have caused deforestation by those seeking timber and charcoal, by farmers seeking fertile land, and housing developers seeking profit?  Do you want your student to catch the eye of that college admissions officer by having something unique on the application?

If you answered yes to any or all of the above, the answer may lie in joining Global Student Embassy’s Ecuador adventure. The trip is limited to 20 students, with each participant receiving an immersive and supportive experience.

This trip takes place during winter break, from February 12 to 21, 2016. It allows your child to work alongside local students in their greenhouses, to create murals, and to slide around in mud while planting mangrove trees, among many other adventures. The students will enjoy tranquil evenings watching bio-luminescent waves as the sun sets while camping on the beach and experiencing the adventure that is Ecuador. As of this writing, two Terra Linda teachers will be accompanying the students: Mr. Madsen and Mr. Garcia.

Financially, this may be the best trip ever. The cost is $2,889 all-inclusive, and each student can receive a $500 scholarship, which reduces the cost to $2,389. Also, since 80 percent of the trip is considered service and only 20 percent tourism, you can deduct 80 percent of the trip off your taxes – a $2,311.20 tax deduction. That’s right, a 10 day trip in a foreign country that can be written off on your taxes.

Though it isn’t all work and no play. The tourism portion includes visiting traditional markets, cloud forest hikes, and boat ride and snorkeling adventures.

For more information on this enchanting opportunity, go to

Or you can contact Program Coordinator Jonathan Kaufman at 415-320-1920 or at



MarinSEL Senior Internships 2015/16

By Noel E. Olson

The twelfth grade MSEL class has already begun their Senior Internship Program. This class requires students to work as an intern four hours per week outside of school with a green employer, and attend a weekly class. The purpose of the internship program is for students to gain experience and real-world skills while exploring an environmental career pathway.

Students are matched with local companies and organizations to fulfill a one-year commitment, where they develop greater understanding of how sustainability is integrated into the workplace, and become more aware of environmental issues from a business perspective. Current intern placements include Bioneers, Indian Valley Farm, Marin Clean Energy, Direct Current LLC, China Camp State Park, Kaiser, EarthRise, Clough Construction, San Rafael Airport, Agricultural Community Events, Community Media Center of Marin, and Christ Presbyterian Church.

Weekly classes are held on Fridays, and these “training sessions” help students gain an understanding of marketing and communication, project management, and conflict resolution. It is also where assignments are reviewed and completed, the internship experience is discussed, and personal growth and reflection is encouraged.


MarinSEL Alumni Corner

Guest writer Ani Pirinjian Class of 2015

September 24, 2015

If one year ago you told me this is where I would be today, I would call you crazy. Hello. My name is Ani Pirinjian and I am officially an MSEL alumni. My new title has become freshman at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona (Cal Poly Pomona) and I am majoring in Organizational Communication. My first class here was today and it focuses on learning history through images; I think I’m really going to enjoy that class.

I moved in just this past Sunday, and ever since then, it’s been a whirlwind of new conditions. However, I feel as though in all of this newness, MSEL has been my superpower. It’s as if I keep lightning bolts in my back pocket and I can just drop them into the scene whenever I hit a challenge. I really like my roommate, and it’s been much easier than I expected to make friends. Plus, my first class went smoothly. Altogether, college has been so far so good from my end of the spectrum.

As for all the current MSEL students, here is my unsolicited advice to you after experiencing this entire “college process.” First, have a completely open mind, this is the most sustainable factor in college applications, and I know how much all of us MSELers appreciate sustainability. Next, be flexible. As an MSEL student, I wouldn’t imagine anything less, but it’s remarkably valuable to be able to adjust when you don’t get into your dream school, or you don’t get the housing situation you requested, etc. And lastly, be confident. If you ever feel in doubt, which will probably happen, more than once – and is totally normal if it does – just remember we all have little MSEL lightning bolts in our back pockets, so don’t be afraid to use them!


Choosing a car for MSEL students

By Guest Writer Dale Miller

During the 20th century, a sixteenth birthday and getting one’s drivers license was a much anticipated milestone that brought freedom to get together with friends and to come and go as one pleased. Now studies have shown that smart phones and social media have diminished the importance of getting a drivers license for teenagers.

But in Marin, a drivers license still represents freedom, not so much for the students but for the parents. Finally, there is freedom from driving the student to school, sports practices, and the many other activities that fill the calendar. But for many MSEL families, a new driver in the family means adding another car to the household.

What is the best car for the family of a student that has been focusing on environmental leadership for the last three years? What is the most economical choice for a family anticipating high college costs? What about the most important consideration, safety?

Nearly sixty percent of the greenhouse gases produced in Marin are produced by gasoline and diesel vehicles. Fracking, drilling, transporting, and refining petroleum also release greenhouse gases throughout the world and cause environmental damage from spills and ground water pollution. Choosing an electric car that doesn’t burn gas or diesel and doesn’t produce any emissions, should be the obvious choice for an MSEL student’s family. How can a student who is truly concerned about the environment justify adding another old fashioned, polluting, fossil fuel car to Marin’s environment?

The cost of electricity for electric cars is typically less than three to four cents per mile compared to the average new gas car that costs at least twelve cents per mile when gas is $3.00 per gallon. Electric cars don’t need oil changes, tuneups, or smog checks, so the maintenance costs are far lower. Some families choose to add a used gas car for the student. That usually means high maintenance and gas costs. However, there are now many very affordable used electric cars available.

For someone saving for college, the savings from driving an electric car rather than a gas car are significant.

It is typically much more economical to lease rather than purchase an electric car. Lease rates for a number of models range from $90 to $200 per month with a $2500 or lower down payment. The $2500 State of California incentive payment for leasing or buying an EV will usually cover the cost of the down payment.

Since mass produced electric cars have only been available for about the past 5 years, the cars have been designed with the latest safety features, a very important consideration for drivers with limited experience.

Wouldn’t it be great if today’s MSEL students could tell their grandchildren that their first car was an electric car because they wanted to take responsibility for protecting the environment and slowing climate change?

That’s real environmental leadership!

Dale Miller is president of Golden Gate Electric Vehicle Association and has been at volunteer at MSEL