By: Zoe McDonough (Class of 2022)

Dramatic decline in native plants is causing problems in California
The Golden State is home to around 6,500 different species of native plants, but alarming recent evidence suggests that they are being pushed out by invasive plants, causing an extreme negative reaction in the surrounding ecosystems (“Native Plants and Climate Change”). This harming of the natural balance of the environment can affect water quality, biodiversity, the economy, and can also increase the risk of fires, which, where we live, is already higher than we can afford. In order for citizens of Marin to be able to contribute to the solution, we must first identify what is causing the issues, why it is important to correct them, who has already begun to help, and simple, affordable ways in which people can help restore native plants.
 

The issue lies in invasive species

With all of the forms of transportation that we have in our world today, it’s not surprising that different species of plants and animals are being carried to different locations along with people and their belongings. However, sometimes when these species arrive in new lands, they start to take over, which is what is currently happening in California. These harmful non-native species, also known as invasive species, have altered the entire ecosystem in a very negative way, because they can’t support it in the way that native species can. For instance, when invasive plants such as ivy cover the ground, it reduces the number of roots in the grounds, leaving nothing to bind the soil together. This leads to a higher likelihood of ground erosion when floods occur. Also, the displacement of native plants that is happening due to invasive species is harming the biodiversity in the environment. Instead of having a variety of shrubs, herbs, and trees, there is starting to be one big monoculture, with no difference in species. Additionally, when people grow them in their own gardens, they can be vulnerable to numerous health detriments due to the fact that they require chemical fertilizers to grow. Lastly, and almost most importantly because of where we live, invasive plants aren’t accustomed to droughts like our native plants are, causing them to die in the summer without enough water. Areas dominated by these dry weeds are way more susceptible to catching on fire, while other tree-climbing plants like ivy serve as conductors for fires. This allows the fires to reach the tree canopy, making them harder to contain and more threatening towards structures. Luckily, there are ways to stop the spread of invasive plants, and some people have already begun to help.

Tejon Ranch, one of California's last and most significant native grasslands. Photo: Nancy Buck

Not all heroes wear capes: some wear gardening gloves

There is a non-profit organization called the California Native Plant Society that, in their own words, are “on a mission to save California’s native plants and places using both head and heart, bringing together science, education, conservation, and gardening to power the native plant movement.” There are many things that they are doing to help restore native plants and eliminate invasive plants. One thing that they are doing is advocating for legal protection of native plants and science based land management. They are also creating California’s first conservation index, filled with all of the native plants that need saving. Another thing that they are doing to help plants is educating the public about why native plants need to be protected. They talk to students, host conferences, create educational videos, and provide guided tours and hikes to look for native plants. One example of them talking to students is when a representative from CPNS volunteered to be the community partner in a student group project involving native plants. She provided guidance, knowledge, and materials that the groups needed in order to make a difference in the community. Lastly, the California Native Plant Society also goes out in the fields and works to remove invasive species from the ecosystem and restore native plants. They provide resources for anyone who wants to help, and they constantly host events for people who want to take action. However, there are smaller ways in which one can help make a difference, like not purchasing invasive plants for your garden. Doing this will also be more beneficial to the garden because native plants require less water than other plants, and no chemical fertilizers. There are already many people who have banded together to make a difference in our homes, but in order for the effect to be larger, more people need to join the cause.

Making a difference, one plant at a time
At this moment in time, there are many issues environmentally in California. The imbalance of plants in the ecosystem has caused a lot of damage in almost a chain reaction. However, there are people, like the California Native Plant Society, that are already starting to help, and they have created change for the better. But we can take it one step further, and with the help of everyone in Marin, we can not only reduce the amount of invasive plants in the state, but we can also help native plants flourish as they used to once more.



 

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By: Millicent Harrison (Class of 2022)

A New Hope for Renewable Energy

Just under a month ago, California set a very lofty goal, to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2045. This huge change brought about by Kevin de León and Jerry Brown outlines and solidifies California’s economic plan for the next twenty-seven years. To put that into context, most freshmen will be forty-one by the time these goals come to fruition. Unfortunately, the goals set will affect California’s fossil fuel industry, and many residents and local businesses may not be willing or have enough financial backing to switch to renewable energy sources. Renewable energy sources such as solar panels and windmills may be becoming more mainstream, but are they affordable and efficient enough to highlight the renewable energy effort?

Accomplishing Weighty Goals

To achieve or not to achieve. Last month, California hosted the Global Climate Action Summit, which kicked off the climate goal of the century. California Governor Jerry Brown made this change possible by signing Senate Bill 100 into law. SB 100 was the brainchild of State Senator Kevin de León, who advocated for this bill for two years. This bill passed legislature on September 10, 2018, as some people had hoped it would. The bill-turned-law states that California must achieve zero carbon emission from electricity by 2045. However, SB 100 only states that electricity must be carbon free. Executive order B-55-18, signed later that day, states that all of California must be greenhouse gas emission-free by 2045. The point is, “electricity only accounts for about 16% of California’s greenhouse gas emissions.” (Roberts) This is crucial to understanding how both SB 100 and B-55-18 differentiate from each other, and how they benefit and reinforce their similar policies. The amazing thing is that if this goal is actually pulled off, California, as the “‘world’s fifth largest economy’ will have pulled off the most significant carbon policy commitment ever.” (Roberts)

Some people argue that the technology to make such a giant leap just doesn’t exist yet, and for the moment, their arguments are entirely justified. However important solar, wind, nuclear, and hydropower are for reaching zero emissions, they cannot be the sole technologies California utilizes in upcoming years. The main problem is that the amount of power that comes from these various technologies fluctuates depending on the conditions. If a day is cloudy and cold with little wind, then solar, and wind power will contribute little to the demand for energy that day. Not to mention that people will likely be inside using their heating systems to the maximum. Based on this evidence, the technologies currently being used will not be sufficient enough to provide carbon-free energy for the entire state. In order to succeed in becoming carbon-free, new technologies must either be invented or put to use in the next twenty-seven years.

More Effort Means More Impact

In order for California to meet its goals by 2045 everyone has to pitch in and reduce their carbon footprint. However big or small, every effort counts. Things like turning off lights when not in a room, limiting shower time, and walking or biking places instead of driving are all steps the average person can take toward helping our state. While the law and executive order primarily target businesses and the economy on a larger scale, there is no reason not to try to be more conscious of the energy we use and waste. Going the extra mile to reduce carbon emissions should not be a chore, it should be a habit. More importantly, it should be fun. Exercise, clean living, and spending lots of time outdoors will create a healthier overall population. Without factories, cars, and other industrial businesses belching carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses into the air, people will be able to get outside and enjoy the beauty of nature in one of the world’s most unique ecosystems. Reaching zero carbon emissions by 2045 may be a far-fetched goal to some, an outlandish idea, but since when have the boundaries of impossible ever stopped humans from evolving?


 
 
 
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By: Ally Teper (Class of 2019)

The week of September 10th,  students from MarinSEL were well represented at the Global Climate Action Summit held in San Francisco, CA. Senior Cameron Evans and junior Eleanor Huang spoke alongside influential environmentalists at events, which drew hundreds of leaders and climate activists from all around the world.

Eleanor Huang was a part of a panel discussion at the event, Education: Key to Long-Term Climate Action Success. She spoke passionately to the audience about youth involvement.

"I challenge all here to involve and engage youth in everything you do. I don’t know what climate challenges are coming. I do know that if you give us a chance, my generation can solve them." Huang’s passionate speech led to participants creating ‘Eleanor for President in 2028” posters in the break out activity.  

Pictured (left to right): Dr. Tom Adams (Deputy Superintendent, California Department of Education), Michael Watkins (Superintendent of Santa Cruz County Office of Education), Juanita Chen (STEM and College & Career Pathways Coordinator, Rialto Unified School District), Kahri Boykin (Teacher, Yosemite Continuation High School), and Eleanor Huang (11th grade student at MarinSEL).

MarinSEL senior Ana Ostrovsky, who helped lead a break out session during the event at the Global Climate Action Summit affiliate event was greatly impacted by what she saw during the event saying, “I feel confident in my generation to continue to be movers and shakers, constantly questioning what we feel is not right. I think my generation sees that all issues are connected; social justice and environmental justice, even gun control, and we are going to do everything in our power to leave this earth better than how we inherited it. We know that we can't afford to waste any more time because we might be the last generation before it is too late.”

MarinSEL senior Max Manwaring-Mueller spent the day taking video and conducting interviews to capture the innovative work in climate education around the world happening at the Global Climate Action Summit. “I was not aware of how climate-illiterate students are across the nation – not their fault of course. Yet with what I saw in the conference, I feel like a push to spread curriculum that mandates climate literacy into common core classes. I do feel hope for the future.”

In addition to the event Eleanor, Ana, and Max participated in, MarinSEL senior Cameron also spoke at a local Marin Global Climate Action Summit affiliate event, Lead on Climate. Cameron spoke alongside Congressman Jared Huffman, Marin Supervisors Kate Sears and Damon Connolly, and Novato Mayor Josh Fryday. “While I wish I could say that I was an internationally recognized leader, a physicist, professor, policy maker, any of the above...I sadly cannot. I am the most average of teenagers who has simply discovered  the power of her own voice. I bring that voice here tonight to represent the restless youth in a growing movement to change our planet for the better.” You can watch Cameron’s full speech here.

Post-Global Climate Action Summit, the MarinSEL students are ready more than ever to take a leadership role in the global climate community. MarinSEL students stood on a global platform and they were poised and influential, proving that student voices are powerful and can make a difference.

 

 
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May 31, 2017

By: Jessica Brown

When I used to think about school, I would imagine sitting in a desk, reading textbooks, and filling out worksheets all day long. Now, the thought of school paints a whole new picture, filled with so much more. The MarinSEL program allows its students to go out into the world and have experiences, rather than imagining what they would be like from the inside of a classroom. I have grown so much as a student in MarinSEL due to the real-life applications of what we learn.

As students in an environmental program, we need to understand how the rest of the world views the climate and Earth. MarinSEL teachers had accomplished just that by arranging a meeting with students from Japan and organizing a skype call with high schoolers living in Greenland. In March this year, we were all excitedly awaiting the arrival of students from Japan that would be visiting our classrooms. Sitting in biology, all eyes looked to the door as a sea of friendly faces flowed into the room. We organized ourselves into small groups and invited the Japanese students to join us. We spent around twenty minutes exchanging ideas, talking about daily activities, and discussing views on politics and global warming. I learned that although our cultural differences may be vast, we still shared a lot of similar views on politics and global issues with the students. The students stayed for a few more days, the goodbyes were lighthearted, and none of us will ever forget that experience.

Later in April, our second encounter with international students occurred in the form of a Skype call. Two days earlier, we had prepared questions about climate change and global warming to ask the students over the Skype call. When the time to talk came, we all sat in our seats, one by one exchanging questions and answers with the foreign high schoolers. We discovered that Greenland also found benefits to climate change because they will have more agricultural land and oil. Fortunately, they also saw the negatives for the rest of the world and the environment, but we never would have thoughts that one of the countries affected most by climate change viewed it somewhat positively. We have to remember that people have differing opinions than us under different circumstances.

These opportunities were unlike anything I have ever experienced before and I never would have been able to participate
 in them without the MarinSEL program. Although, talking with international students hasn’t been the only amazing thing we’ve done.
In both Geography, English, and Health class, we have been studying a food unit for weeks, learning about GMOs, organics, and
 local produce. Recently, we were able to apply our learnings to our everyday lives. We were told about a project where we would be going to the farmers’ market, interviewing farmers, and cooking a dish made completely from food we bought from the market. Excited, we did not know where to begin. We all brainstormed recipe ideas and thought about what foods would have the lowest carbon footprint. Finally, the day of the trip arrived and we were ecstatic. The class piled into cars and off we drove to the market. We were taught about how the farmers produced their food sustainably and asked them questions about their farming techniques. After we finished our shopping, we got back into our cars and put our ingredients in the refrigerator at school, but the project wasn't over. We also were required to calculate the carbon footprint of our dishes. I never realized the amount of emissions that food produces and the importance of buying local produce to reduce the carbon dioxide. The next day, we had a cook off during Seminar and lunch. We used the four Cs in order to work cooperatively to make a creative and delicious dish. It was an amazing project with many aspects that we could apply to our lives.

MarinSEL has a different approach to learning than conventional schools. The program goes above and beyond by allowing students
 to apply our learning to real life situations. School is no longer just sitting and reading textbooks because the MarinSEL program has turned it into an unforgettable learning adventure.

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April 25, 2017

By Jocelyn Tsai

She drifts over to the funeral podium and clears her throat. She prepares to give her eulogy about her great aunt. Her heart beats out of her chest uncontrollably. She inhales a deep breath as an attempt to calm her down. It fails to work though. Public speaking poses as her worst fear ever. It surpasses flying on planes, spiders, and even death. She can't even bear to think about talking in front of an audience. Why does the fear of giving a speech outweigh the fear of being the one in the casket? According to WashingtonPost.com, public speaking poses as the number one fear in Americans. People fear talking in front of crowds more than heights, clowns, and drowning. For some reason, speaking in front of others inspires fear in people. Perhaps the possibility of endless judgments the audience might have sparks the fear, or the fact that all eyes focus in on the speaker. Whatever seems scary about public speaking, I can definitely relate. During elementary and middle school, I was most certainly a diffident, soft spoken student. I barely had any experience giving speeches and would never have even given thought to talking in front of large crowds. As a result of participating in the MarinSEL program, I evolved to appreciate public speaking and grew more confident. This metamorphosis occurred because of all the practice speeches and presentations I had done in my MarinSEL classes.

Recently, in English, we started crafting a Pecha Kucha, a style of presentation that originated in Japan. Pecha Kuchas have twenty slides with images and very little text. The presenter can only spend twenty seconds on each slide, challenging them to say the most crucial information as clear and concise as they can. In English, we were split into partner groups and assigned to create a Pecha Kucha regarding an intercalary chapter from Grapes of Wrath. Pecha Kuchas require a lot of practice beforehand in order for the timing of the slides to flow correctly. Therefore, being prepared for the Pecha Kucha presentation prove to be necessary. In addition, in our Biology class, we devote class time to prep for a huge presentation for our Mutant Academy assignment, where we created a superhero who positively impacts the environment. At the end of our project, we will present our superhero to a panel of teachers and explain how the complicated processes of DNA, RNA, and protein synthesis worked together to result in our superhero. Then, in World Geography, we recently finished our zero net energy home presentations. My group exerted all our brainpower into calculating our home energy usage and how to conserve it. After we constructed our zero net energy house model, we presented to our classmates about our process behind it. Through constant exposure to public speaking in the MarinSEL program, I have improved greatly on it and grown more comfortable in front of an audience.

While giving the many speeches and presentations I have done this year, I received critical feedback on how to advance my speaking skills even more. In Seminar, every time a classmate would give a presentation, the class would provide suggestions for improvement. Through this process, I learned that I speak way too fast and need to slow down in order to deliver an understandable, clear message. Improving on public speaking relies on finding weaknesses and building on them. What better way to do this than through the accepting and kind MarinSEL community? When I'm speaking in front of my MarinSEL classmates, I know that if I mess up, they will give me constructive, never negative, advice to improve it. Our Seminar teacher, Ms. Frack, also made it a huge point to count our filler words every presentation. After a presentation, Ms. Frack would tell me how many filler words I had muttered without even thinking about it. I tend to use filler words mindlessly, but little but little, I learned to be more aware of words such as "like" and "um." All of this constructive feedback allowed me to grow into a better, more confident public speaker. 

The MarinSEL program improved my speaking skills and let me partake in numerous opportunities to practice it. Recently, MarinSEL hosted their annual Business Mixer, where companies mingle with MarinSEL students and faculty to learn why they should support this program. This event showed me how much I had grown on my public speaking. At the Business Mixer, I gave a speech about my experiences as a MarinSEL student. I had practiced endlessly before, remembering to speak slowly and concisely and limit my filler words, all skills I had learned through MarinSEL. As I stood up on the podium, looming over my audience of mostly adults, I realized that I wasn't scared. My heart wasn't pounding out of my chest and I wasn't all jittery. Public speaking no longer frightened me as much as it used to. As result of constant presentation and speeches during freshman year, I had become accustomed to talking in front of audiences. I, Jocelyn Tsai, had overcome my huge fear of public speaking, and happiness radiated from me because of it. I would no longer allow my fear to keep me from missing out on speaking opportunities. I transformed from a shy girl to a student who just delivered a speech in front of countless business officials.

Everyone undergoes a miraculous metamorphosis at least once in their life. Whether it be learning to appreciate the Earth more or realizing that they can be much more than just a superficial person, character development proves itself as inevitable. I'm so glad and grateful that I conquered the fear of public speaking and became more confident along the way. It was all thanks to the MarinSEL community, from the helpful feedback to simply assigning many oral presentations. With a little encouragement and help from peers and a whole lot of courage and initiative, anything can be accomplished, even overcoming a huge fear.

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April 4, 2017

By Molly Madden

I had just finished a meditation with Mr. Garcia on a hot Saturday afternoon in August and it was time to move on to the next activity. Mr. Baker, the new activity instructor, told me that I had to decide if I was a North, South, East or West based on different types of character traits. I found out that I was a south, meaning that I am a team player, patient, generous, and understanding. This was the first time that I remember thinking critically in MarinSEL. Starting from day one of the MarinSEL retreat we were taught to use critical thinking, and as the year has progressed it has become an even more common tool leading students to success.

Critical thinking means “mode of thinking about any subject, content, or problem in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully analyzing, assessing, and reconstructing it” (critical thinking community). This type of thinking originates in the prefrontal cortex or frontal cortex of the brain. This area is responsible for decision making, organization, and thinking skills. The most important reason is that it helps us think more deeply and reflect on what we are doing. It also helps us problem solve and determine alternative ways to work.  MarinSEL uses the 4 C's: Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Creativity, and Communication in its curriculum, but in every lesson of every day, we are using this skill.

In every class period of every day, critical thinking is incorporated. In these past weeks in English, I read the book Bless Me Ultima, a story about a little boy that grows up in New Mexico. While annotating this story I thought critically by pulling apart the dreams and making sense of them. One example: “We must take with us the blood that comes after birth and bury it in the field to renew their fertility and to assure that the baby will follow our ways” (Anaya 26). This quote resembles how after the crops have been harvested they need to be left out in the fields to die and decompose into the soil so that it can help the little sproutlings for the next year survive.   In Geography, I am assigned “Coffee Shops.” This is when I bring in an article and discuss it within a group. I then come up with an intuitive question that will provide lots of response and debate. While debating, my classmates and I have conversations that respond to the question asked, and we do this by expressing our own opinions. One important conversation was about the water crisis. In this particular country, the water wasn’t being dispersed evenly among the agriculture and the big city, and while conversing some people thought that it was a huge problem while others didn’t.  In Seminar class, I often take quizzes or tests telling me what kind of leader I am and also what personality type I am.  After doing the Myers-Briggs test I found that I was an ENFJ (Extroverted, Intuitive, Feeling, and Judging). After I received these results, I felt the results matched me perfectly because I am such an extroverted person that also has empathy for others.   Finally in Biology, I participate in labs and fun thinking activities like making models of the functions of DNA and RNA. Not only is critical thinking important in school work, but also in LEAD projects.

In our schoolwork, especially LEAD projects, thought process is crucial. Lots of work is put into these projects and lots of thinking is involved. For example, coming up with creative ideas, making appointments with community partners, thinking of activities that will not only teach kids but entertain them.  In relation to the other 4C’s, I think that critical thinking is one of the most important. It is used in problem solving, organizing dates to go and talk to the students and middle school students, and finally working on the pieces of the puzzle like presentations and creative projects that complete the LEAD project.

Critical thinking is an essential tool that will be needed throughout my life that I will need to use, working with people or for companies. Without the MarinSEL program I would not learn as much as I have about thinking critically. In my future years I will be able to incorporate the skills that I derived from this fashion of thinking while talking with fellow business peers. I can also run a successful campaign and gain different perspectives. Critical thinking is a tool for success and with the path that I am on, and the teachings of MarinSEL I will do just fine in the big world. 

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March 9, 2017

By Eleanor Huang

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.

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