By Tyler Valdes & TTriss Williams Renard
For over 10 years, the School of Environmental Leadership (SEL), a program of SEI, has built strong, innovative leaders who are empowered to creatively and critically analyze issues and formulate plans of action. In the spring of 2020, as growing research has demonstrated the extensive health benefits that result from exposure to outdoor environments, Marin County Parks announced the continuance of its community grant program called “Breathe/Respira!” which seeks to provide the means to help the local community have access to parks. The title symbolizes the ability of outdoor recreation and connection with nature to reduce stress and improve health with the Spanish translation of “breathe”, respira, included to underscore the importance of making parks available to all Marin communities regardless of language or cultural background. Upholding strong values of equity and inclusion, SEL was successfully awarded a grant to support equitable access to parks for underserved communities - a project that would be spearheaded by SEL students.
Under the guidance of SEI staff and the Marin Environmental Forum, 10th grade students in SEI’s flagship SEL - Marin School of Environmental Leadership (MarinSEL) - coordinated a year-long Leadership and Environmental Action Development (LEAD) project that brought students at Laurel Dell Elementary School to local green spaces. LEAD projects, a key component of SEL, are equity-forward, community-based environmental action projects that focus on policy change. While the original project design culminated in a field day for K-8 students and their families in Marin County parks, the challenge of COVID-19 restrictions called for solutions driven by creativity, a 21st century skill fostered through SEL.
Completing and submitting the Green Ribbon Schools application was a major project of my Climate Corps fellowship and a long-term goal of the district. The application had been in progress for a few years, so I inherited a strong draft that former Fellows put together. From there, I spent much of the fall compiling missing data and information, revising responses, and updating the application to reflect SRCS’ most recent sustainability initiatives and projects.
By Beatrix Berry
Entering the realm of high school, with tall 12th graders, looming assignments, and the occasional beard, can be intimidating for many. It can feel especially daunting to a student who is less vocal in a room full of new faces. Despite entering the Marin School of Environmental Leadership (MarinSEL) feeling more quiet than her classmates, Harita Kalvai, a 10th grader in MarinSEL, has risen to the occasion to lead her peers and organize local youth activism for a cause bigger than herself.
When Harita started high school at MarinSEL two years ago, she found it difficult to stick up for herself and share her opinions. Despite her initial shyness, Harita has grown to be a vocal environmental changemaker through a number of leadership opportunities she found through MarinSEL.
Harita with MarinSEL classmates
In a recent project for one of her MarinSEL classes, Harita and her teammates worked closely with Marin Transit to create stickers for public buses that depict COVID-safe behavior while on the bus. In this project, she took a leadership role and demonstrated her communication skills with industry professionals and community partners who are experts in their field.
Resilience in Action: How High School Students Successfully Inspired Wildfire Preparedness during Distance Learning
By Tyler Valdes
The School of Environmental Leadership (SEL), a flagship program of SEI, is a project-based, environmentally-focused program that emphasizes development in leadership and 21st century skills. As part of the SEL, 9th grade students implement Leadership and Environmental Action Development (LEAD) Projects which take place over the course of a semester and align with environmental themes such as climate, transportation, energy, water, waste, and food. When I joined the SEI team in the summer of 2020, I quickly became involved with supporting the Marin School of Environmental Leadership (MarinSEL) based in San Rafael. As someone with a strong background in climate science and communications, I was thrilled when I was asked to serve as a community partner for the Wildfires LEAD project team.
Right away, the team of seven freshman students impressed me with their resolve, passion, and coordination. At the beginning of the semester, I saw the students excel at researching wildfire health effects, preparedness, and contributions to climate change. They reached out to experts such as Dr. Mark Stemen, Professor of Geography at Chico State University who contributed to the creation of the Cal-Adapt tool, for advice and information. Regardless of the challenges posed by social distancing and online education, the team set ambitious goals of spreading wildfire preparedness awareness to 5,000 households! However, as the semester went on and reality sunk in, the team honed in on impact rather than volume. For example, the group virtually presented their research and project progress to over 50 city officials and community members at the City of San Rafael’s Climate Change Action Plan (CCAP) meeting in October 2020.
A slide from a MarinSEL wildfire team presentation
The SEI Team
Environmental education and workforce development experts share stories from the field