Blogs - Merit Educational Consultants

Back when my daughters were young, I created a preschool and enrichment program to give them stimulating activities with a few other children. I developed the curriculum, trained the teacher, and hosted the program in my rec room. My girls LOVED the program and their academic skills were off the charts. I loved being able to set up the lesson plans to ensure that they were challenged and intrigued by their classes. By charging tuition to the 2-3 other families that joined the program, their contributions paid for the teacher and material expenses. It was a win-win situation for all of us.

Today, Bay Area families are scrambling to set up pandemic pods for their children to either enhance their school curriculum or to replace it. My consulting firm, Merit Educational Consultants, is helping parents set up their pandemic pods as coops (all parents contribute funds to pay for expenses), as independent programs (parents pay the hosting family to cover expenses), or as private schools (parents pay hosting family for program and/or work with Independent Studies programs for school credits.)

I’ve written a book that lays out exactly how to set up these programs and it comes complete with forms, policies, and tips. Check it out: The Millennial’s Guide to Free Child Care in Your Home. I have also written curriculum framework for all subjects starting at 18 months old to 12th grade; the high school courses are all UC A-G approved. DIY parents love customizing their family programs by utilizing the book and curriculum.

Creating a pandemic pod is similar to setting up in-home child care or starting a small homeschool. The only real difference is selecting families who share similar coronavirus safety protocols. You could imagine how this adds a new layer of complexity because there are still many unknowns about how this virus spreads and how to protect everyone.

Choosing students for your pandemic pod requires looking beyond the students themselves. You’ll need to evaluate how the family lives, who they socialize with, how they protect themselves, and most importantly, how honest they’ll be about their social interactions when not in the pod. In other words, you are interacting with everybody THEY interact with.

So if they don’t wear masks when stopping at the grocery store, it’s like you went with them to the store and didn’t wear your mask – and you may be exposing your family and the entire pod to the coronavirus. If one of the parents is having a sexual affair with someone out of the pod family group, you’re essentially in bed with their lover too. Get my drift? Now the big questions are can you trust them to tell you these private details about who they’re socializing with and can you operate your pandemic pod safely for your teacher and the students?

I’m helping families design their pandemic pods and vet students/families to find good matches. It’s best to keep pods to just 2-4 families. By doing the interviews and setting up policies as their consultant, it makes it easier for the families to discuss concerns about other family member’s activities and the overall safety of all parties. Is it worth it? We’ll see… For me back in the 90s (pre-pandemic,) it was the best decision I made for my girls, their education and their social lives.

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August 5, 2020

How to form a Pandemic Pod for free

Back when my daughters were young, I created a preschool and enrichment program to give them stimulating activities with a few other children. I developed the curriculum, trained the teacher, and hosted the program in my rec room. My girls LOVED the program and their academic skills were off the charts. I loved being able to set up the lesson plans to ensure that they were challenged and intrigued by their classes. By charging tuition to the 2-3 other families that joined the program, their contributions paid for the teacher and material expenses. It was a win-win situation for all of us.

Today, Bay Area families are scrambling to set up pandemic pods for their children to either enhance their school curriculum or to replace it. My consulting firm, Merit Educational Consultants, is helping parents set up their pandemic pods as coops (all parents contribute funds to pay for expenses), as independent programs (parents pay the hosting family to cover expenses), or as private schools (parents pay hosting family for program and/or work with Independent Studies programs for school credits.)

I’ve written a book that lays out exactly how to set up these programs and it comes complete with forms, policies, and tips. Check it out: The Millennial’s Guide to Free Child Care in Your Home. I have also written curriculum framework for all subjects starting at 18 months old to 12th grade; the high school courses are all UC A-G approved. DIY parents love customizing their family programs by utilizing the book and curriculum.

Creating a pandemic pod is similar to setting up in-home child care or starting a small homeschool. The only real difference is selecting families who share similar coronavirus safety protocols. You could imagine how this adds a new layer of complexity because there are still many unknowns about how this virus spreads and how to protect everyone.

Choosing students for your pandemic pod requires looking beyond the students themselves. You’ll need to evaluate how the family lives, who they socialize with, how they protect themselves, and most importantly, how honest they’ll be about their social interactions when not in the pod. In other words, you are interacting with everybody THEY interact with.

So if they don’t wear masks when stopping at the grocery store, it’s like you went with them to the store and didn’t wear your mask – and you may be exposing your family and the entire pod to the coronavirus. If one of the parents is having a sexual affair with someone out of the pod family group, you’re essentially in bed with their lover too. Get my drift? Now the big questions are can you trust them to tell you these private details about who they’re socializing with and can you operate your pandemic pod safely for your teacher and the students?

I’m helping families design their pandemic pods and vet students/families to find good matches. It’s best to keep pods to just 2-4 families. By doing the interviews and setting up policies as their consultant, it makes it easier for the families to discuss concerns about other family member’s activities and the overall safety of all parties. Is it worth it? We’ll see… For me back in the 90s (pre-pandemic,) it was the best decision I made for my girls, their education and their social lives.

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August 5, 2020

My family was in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was dropped 75 years ago today

I vividly remember Shozun, my cousin’s husband, telling me about the day the atomic bomb was dropped on his home town of Hiroshima. My father’s family lived on the other side of the mountain from Hiroshima, which shielded them from the atomic bomb explosion that instantly vaporized 66,000 people. Many of my family members died that day and others died later from radiation poisoning.

On that fateful day, Shozun was taking the train from Tokyo back to Hiroshima after work. All of a sudden the train stopped and the doors opened. Everyone disembarked and Shozun, carrying his black briefcase, started walking towards Hiroshima. At the time, he didn’t know that an atomic bomb had destroyed the entire city and 80,000 people at the hypocenter. As he walked through the city, he saw people with melted body parts crying for help and others seeking water in the radiation-filled waterways. He was an engineer and couldn’t understand why the US would drop the atomic bomb on civilians.

When I was 11 years old, I visited Hiroshima for the first time. Walking through the Peace Memorial Museum sent chills through my body as I saw black and white photographs of people burned by the 4,000-degrees Celsius blast. I remember seeing a woman with burns on her face in the shape of a metal grate. As I walked around the Peace Park, I wondered why a human being would engineer an atomic bomb and why President Truman would order the Enola Gay to actually drop them on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

It’s been 75 years since the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan. Not one president or leader in the world has used a nuclear bomb since Truman. Understanding what we know now about nuclear bombs, world leaders have resisted using them because life on this planet is much too delicate to withstand nuclear wars. I hope that we remember the devastation that ensued when the atom bombs were released on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and find peaceful negotiations to solve political and economic problems.

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August 3, 2020

Cloth vs Paper Towels: No Contest!

I don’t understand why we need to use paper towels. My grandmothers all used cloth towels because they could simply wash and reuse them for years. Did you know that we cut 51,000 trees EVERY DAY to make paper towels in America? That’s over 50,000 trees every day! Sales for Proctor and Gamble (Bounty paper towels) grew 20% to over $17 billion in the last quarter because we’re all washing our hands and cleaning our houses more during this pandemic.

Bounty’s “Quicker Picker Upper” commercials brainwash into thinking that when something spills – oh no! – we have 2 options to clean it up: (1) the cheaper paper towel; or (2) Bounty’s more expensive paper towel. But we all know that a cotton towel will out absorb any paper towel. Don’t let Proctor and Gamble trick you into thinking that you have to buy the thicker, plusher paper towel and that you need to buy this every week!

I just cut up old bath towels and keep them under my sink to clean up big spills and messes. I clean my house using old wash cloths and pillowcases. They’re free and I can reuse them for years.

When using public restrooms, opt to use the air dryers. So what if your hands are a bit damp? I carry a little towel in my purse but when I forget it, I wipe my hands on my pants (shhh!). Check out my YouTube video.

Best part: I’m not contributing to clear cutting forests when we need these trees to create oxygen, and I’m not adding more methane in the air when those 51,000 trees are cut every day. I also don’t need to drive my car to buy paper towels and I can save money for other things that I really need.

So, retire those old bath towels and treat yourself to something nice (with the savings)!

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August 3, 2020

While changing habits, add “eliminating plastics” to the list!

I know we’re all being super vigilant about viruses, so while we’re changing our daily routines, let’s also reduce our toxic exposure to plastics. I’ve started saving glass jars with metal lids and use them to store flour, sugar, and baking stuff; all meal leftovers; and cleaning supplies. Bacteria and viruses can be easily cleaned off glass jars, but not so much with plastic containers.

Here are some easy tips:

1. Don’t put plastic containers in the dishwasher. Toxic chemicals leach out with hot        water.
2. Remove food from plastic containers when heating or eating/drinking hot liquids
3. Replace your vinyl shower curtains and placemats. They release chemicals that are      linked to health issues.

Think it’s hard to change habits and routines? Check out a YouTube video I made that demonstrates simple things I’ve done to get plastic out of my life.

August 1, 2020

Is eating chocolate actually good for my heart and brain?

When everything I LOVE to eat is terrible for my waistline and health, I am savoring a new study that says that CHOCOLATE helps keep the heart’s blood vessels healthy. Yup! According to Baylor College of Medicine,

“Chocolate contains heart healthy nutrients such as flavonoids, methylxanthines, polyphenols and stearic acid, which may reduce inflammation and increase good cholesterol.” The study found that eating chocolate more than once a week can decrease coronary artery disease by 8%.

In other words, the antioxidants in chocolate help reduce inflammation, improve blood flow, and boost mood and concentration. It helps keep plaque from building up in the lining of blood vessels, and it reduces blood pressure and helps prevent stroke and heart failure. And if that isn’t enough good news, chocolate improves blood flow to the brain, which may improve cognitive function.

Dark chocolate has more benefits than white or milk chocolate, and it’s best to get chocolate that not highly processed. I like Lily’s Dark Chocolate Almond bars. They’re sweetened with stevia and they have 55% cocoa.

It’s nice to know that my favorite dessert is actually good for my heart and memory.

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July 31, 2020

Learning Hubs: San Francisco’s solution for low-income students; and another free alternative

While K-12 schools are playing tug of war as they make decisions about online or on campus classes this fall, “pandemic pods” or “learning hubs” are popping up in the Bay Area. These pandemic pods or learning hubs are in-person groups where a small number of students work with a teacher in small group settings.

Wealthy families band together to hire a teacher to work with their children to ensure that they get the academic instruction they need so they don’t lose momentum and they’ll be ready to move on next year. I’m setting up these pandemic pods for families as they prepare for the new school year. They pool their dollars to create classes for their children – usually reading, math and science. Wealthy families typically have the funds to make sure their children don’t slip through the cracks.

Low-income families, however, don’t usually have that luxury, which causes a socio-economic rift that continues to widen the gap between the haves and the have nots. But in San Francisco, the SF Dept of Children, Youth and their Families has created learning hubs for 6,000 low-income students. They have targeted students who don’t have computers, internet, or stay-at-home parents – the students who were left out of online zoom classes last spring. These 40 hubs are located walking distance from public housing, foster care, homeless youth, and others who need more support during the shelter-in-place and online classes. And all of these services are completely free to these students.

These learning hubs will operate out of the Parks and Rec Dept and other nonprofit organization sites. They’ll have computers and internet connections so they can participate in online classes, and they’ll also have teachers available to help them on site. These students will also have access to meals and snacks, exercise, and other students. The hubs will serve kindergarten through 6th grade students and they’ll be open Monday through Friday during school hours.

For families that aren’t wealthy or don’t have access to learning hubs, they can also create their pandemic pods and set up classes in their homes for FREE. The hosting families organize the pods by hiring their teachers, purchasing materials, and recruiting 2-4 students. The tuition that the other students pay will cover the teacher’s wages and materials. With a little planning and ingenuity, the hosting family benefits from these classes and they don’t need to be wealthy to do it. I’ve written a book that lays out all the steps to set this up. So the pandemic pods don’t have to be separate but unequal.

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July 29, 2020

A folding stand-up paddleboard and kayak made of 100% recycled plastic!

My friend Tim Niemier, creator of the Ocean Kayak, has just launched his Origami Paddler on Kickstarter. This paddleboard is a brilliant design – folds in thirds for easy storage and transportation! The paddle actually fits inside the folded paddleboard too!

I have 2 of his Origami Paddlers and took them to Shasta on a houseboating family vacation a few years ago. Everyone loved it! Tim is making these paddleboards using 100% recycled plastic – so I am helping divert plastic waste from the landfill while getting some exercise!

This Origami Paddler is also a kayak! It’s just like his sit-on-top kayaks that he invented and designed back in the ‘70s. I have his Malibu Two kayaks, but rarely take them out because they’re huge and heavy. Now this Origami Paddler is both a kayak and paddleboard — and they fold so they fit in my trunk. Wow!

It retails for over $500, but on Kickstarter you can get it for as little as $279.

I’m getting 2 more so my whole family can go out together! It’s a great way to get exercise, be with others (more than 6 feet apart), and get some sun! Tim started his Kickstarter campaign to raise $25,000 28 days ago, and today, he’s raised over $400,000! Looks like his Origami Paddler will be as successful as his Ocean Kayaks!

July 28, 2020

Good news for seafood lovers! Omega-3s protect our brains!

Just read a study about how eating fish (or taking omega-3 or fish oil supplements) could protect our brains from cognitive decline caused by air pollution. This seemed odd to me because I just purchased a really great air filter with a hepa-filter to protect me from air pollution.

But according to Neurology, the medical journal of American Academy of Neurology,
“Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to fight inflammation and maintain brain structure in aging brains. They have also been found to reduce brain damage caused by neurotoxins like lead and mercury.”

Fatty fish that is baked or broiled (wild salmon, mackerel, and tuna) are the best sources for omega-3s. They say that fried fish loses the benefits because of the deep frying process. So no fish and chips!

Environmental neurotoxins are a problem for the brain because the particles are so small that they can be breathed into the lungs. From there, they can be distributed throughout the body via the bloodstream and cause neuroinflammation and cognitive decline.

Because omega-3s have anti-inflammatory properties, they can protect the brain. So have seafood once or twice a week to possibly stave off dementia. Well, that is some news I can embrace – I love wild salmon!

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July 27, 2020

Low-income students are not submitting their FAFSA and losing scholarship/financial aid opportunities

Low-income students (families) are making fewer deposits for college this fall than in previous years, and those who are making deposits are NOT submitting the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Of course, this makes sense considering parents may be unemployed or under-employed as a result of the coronavirus and shelter-in-place (SIP) orders. Many parents are overwhelmed and probably don’t realize that they need to complete the FAFSA for scholarships and financial aid.

When parents and students don’t complete the FAFSA, their colleges don’t know how much their families can pay for college tuition, room and board. Colleges generally won’t give scholarships or financial aid offers without the FAFSA.

Black and Latinx families make up a huge percentage of students and families who haven’t filled out the FAFSA and who may not attend college this year. Parents can start filling out the FAFSA in October and the actual opening date is January 1st. The official deadline is in March, but parents can fill out the form as late as June 30th.

We need to tell low- and middle-income families to complete the FAFSA to learn about scholarships and financial aid their children may receive. It’s vital that we make a college education available to all students of any ethnicity and any socio-economic status.

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July 26, 2020

Make your own REUSABLE sanitizing wipes!

Flustered that I couldn’t buy sanitizing wipes back in March because people were hoarding them, I cut the wipes in half to make them last longer. That’s when I decided to make REUSABLE wipes. Let’s keep them out of the landfills – and we won’t run out when the next wave hits!

Making my reusable sanitizing wipes was easy. I gathered glass jars and 3 simple ingredients:
1 cup Rubbing Alcohol
1 Tbsp Aloe Vera Gel
3 drops Essential Oil

Then I cut up some old pillowcases (8” x 8”). I filled the jar with about ½ cup of the sanitizing solution. For fun, I made labels, and then made 20 reusable sanitizing wipe containers. Now I have one in every room in my house, garage, and greenhouse – I even put one out on my new deck!

Oops! Just realized that I spelled “reusable” wrong!