Blogs - 4/115 - Merit Educational Consultants

Central Fire District honored the NRG Firewise community for our progress on preventative fire programs. When these organizations work together to educate, support, and guide one another, we really do get things done! The Central Fire team has come to road association meetings, Firewise planning sessions, and even worked with individual homeowners to help us prioritize home hardening and clearing around our houses. Looking forward to our April 23, 2022 NRG Firewise event! We’ll have over a dozen experts speak about all of the issues we’re concerned about — and Central Fire will be instrumental at this event.

March 13, 2022

We’re stronger and better when we work together

Central Fire District honored the NRG Firewise community for our progress on preventative fire programs. When these organizations work together to educate, support, and guide one another, we really do get things done! The Central Fire team has come to road association meetings, Firewise planning sessions, and even worked with individual homeowners to help us prioritize home hardening and clearing around our houses. Looking forward to our April 23, 2022 NRG Firewise event! We’ll have over a dozen experts speak about all of the issues we’re concerned about — and Central Fire will be instrumental at this event.

February 22, 2022

260 homes are now recognized as a Firewise community!

Ten years ago, I never really thought much about wildfires – even though I live in a heavily wooded area in Santa Cruz County. But now, I make architectural, landscaping, and even social decisions based on how they affect fire safety. That’s why I’m thrilled that my neighborhood of 260 homes on North Rodeo Gulch Road in Soquel is now officially recognized as a Firewise USA community.

What does that mean?

  • Save money on homeowner’s insurance
  • Work with neighbors to clear our properties
  • Share concerns on our forum
  • Receive free chipping
  • Communicate using our MURS radios during emergencies
  • Improve address and road signage
  • Gather for annual NRG Firewise events

I’m organizing our 2nd annual event on April 23rd with a lineup of experts who will discuss evacuation plans, emergency communications (when power is out), clearing 100 feet around homes, group clearing projects, signage, and more. Come out to learn when to evacuate and how you can save your home when a wildfire strikes. Fire season is year round.

Check out our website:

February 15, 2022

Tips on cell phone etiquette and usage to promote healthy, and successful, teens

Cellphone usage has become an addiction for teens (and parents). Kids even check their phones for text messages while they are physically with friends and family for fear of missing out (FOMO). The stress of constantly checking Instagram and texts puts kids in limbo while they try to multitask — unsuccessfully.

You’re not alone if you feel a little rejected when your kids find their communication with others to be more important than with us. Whatever happened to etiquette? Remember when giving eye contact while talking with friends was expected? Seems like teens today have their heads buried in their phones and don’t even bother glancing in our direction while “talking” to us.

So you believe them when they tell you they’re successfully juggling homework assignments, preparing for tests, and learning concepts while checking and responding to text messages? Umm, nope! They’re barely doing the work and glazing over notes while steeped in drama with their friends. On the surface, they may push around papers, zip over worksheets, and make a poor attempt at preparing for tests. But we know our precious kids can do better.

How can they really comprehend difficult concepts or problem solve when they are disrupted about every 30 seconds to gaze at their phones causing them to completely lose focus? Half a minute isn’t long enough to delve into anything – especially when they’re hoping to get a text from a friend.

When confronted with their addiction to their phones, teens can become angry and defensive. They’ll claim that they hardly use their phones and that texting doesn’t interfere with their concentration or work performance. That’s why you need to be the parent and set up new family cellphone rules. By forcing them to take a break from the constant pressure of social media, their school performance will improve as well as their attitudes.

Place all phone chargers in the kitchen or a central location, and set up a simple schedule for phone usage. Phones need to be in chargers except for designated times.

Try this for teens:
30 min before school
(if they get up early enough to make their beds, get dressed, eat breakfast, and pack their lunches)

30 min after school
(during transportation home while in vehicle or walking home)

30 min after dinner
(no cell phones at the dinner table)

60 min max after homework is complete
(if time allows; phones need to be in charger at a designated bedtime)

Make a policy for all family members, yourself included, to be a good role model and to avoid major collisions about fairness. Those who don’t abide by the rules, lose their phone privileges for a day. Lock the phone in a safe or take it with you. You can set up a more lenient schedule for weekends to give them some freedom to soak up social media but monitor the amount of time; especially if they have studying and homework to complete. Set up perks like getting phone upgrades if they abide by phone schedules.

You’ll find that your teens will be more engaged in discussions at home, their grades will improve, they’ll get more sleep, and they’ll be generally more peaceful. Of course, they’ll never admit it, but you’ll know.

February 1, 2022

The new Digital SATs and PSATs

The SATs and PSATs will be offered in a digital format starting in 2024 for the SATs and 2023 for the PSATs. So no more Scantron answer sheets and Number 2 pencils! Instead, the new format will allow students to use their own laptops or tablets while they take the exams at a College Board testing center. For students who do not have these devices, the College Board will provide them on the test dates.

This new digital SAT will be easier to take. Eighty percent of the students who took the digital SAT pilot exams said that it was less stressful than the paper and pencil format. If students lose connectivity or power during the exam, they won’t lose their work or time while they reconnect.

The new SAT will be shorter – about 2 hours instead of 3 – giving the students more time per question. The reading section will have shorter passages with just one question tied to each section, and there will be a wider range of topics that will represent works that they’ll read in college.

Calculators will be allowed for all the math sections. Yahoo! This can be a game changer.

Test scores will be processed in just a few days, instead of weeks, giving students more time to plan future tests.

These new SATs will be offered to 9th students who will graduate in 2025.

January 22, 2022

School Options for Students

School choices for students K-12 may seem dismal when you consider online zoom classes vs on-campus classes. Staring at a computer for 6 hours with 30 students and asynchronous sessions produced a decline in academic performance. But sitting in classes with some unvaccinated teachers and students sounds dangerous.

Back in March 2020 when COVID first surfaced, we thought our kids were going to have 2 weeks of online classes and stay-at-home orders for parents, and then we’d all be back in classes and back to our offices. Nope. Two weeks turned into 4 weeks, which turned into 6 months, which turned into a year, and now we’re coming up on the 2-year anniversary in March 2022.

Meanwhile, by all counts, student scores have rescinded since 2019. Thirty students simply don’t engage with the teacher and one another in a virtual class. Student absences in on-campus classes is 30% lower than 2019. So kids aren’t engaged in online classes and many students don’t go to school because they’re sick or they’re worried that they may become sick.

Some Bay Area families are opting for independent study programs as an alternative to on-campus instruction. In California, students must be enrolled in a public or private school where they can be monitored by the state. So homeschoolers work with public or private schools by enrolling in independent study programs – making it a win-win situation for students and schools. Students get to stay home and schools continue to get their ADA (average daily attendance) moneys.

At Merit Academy, for instance, we provide the teacher and the curriculum so the student can stay at home and learn from a real teacher. With just one student in the class, we tailor the instruction to ensure that every student is engaged and challenged.

Just like COVID broke the notion that everyone needs to work in the office, we now know that students can learn in many different structures. The concept of school classrooms is changing.

January 18, 2022

What is a passing grade in California?

Most high school students know that a D in an academic class is a passing grade. That means they get 5 credits towards high school graduation and the course has satisfied the particular category (English, math, etc.).

But while a student can eek by with a D for graduation purposes, in California, the UCs and the CSUs will not accept Ds for their core academic courses (known as A-G courses). Yup. For UCs and CSUs, you need to receive a C- or better to get credit for these courses and to be eligible for enrollment in the largest public university systems in the country.

This can be very confusing for students who are not familiar with college admissions requirements, and especially so for students from homes where parents did not attend college. A recent survey found that only 37% of Black and Hispanic students understood what A-G eligibility meant.

To address these concerns, some California schools are considering “dumping the D” and moving a passing grade to a C and giving “incompletes” for Ds. Either way, students should have the same passing grade requirements for high school graduation and for college admissions. Let’s close that gap!


December 22, 2021

Baking cookies just makes the world a little sweeter!

December 8, 2021

College credit for apprenticeships?

Colleges recognize that higher education doesn’t always give students the real hands-on experiences they need to be prepared to enter the workforce after graduation, so they’re working with corporations to create apprenticeships that translate to real college credits.

IBM offers software engineering apprenticeships that give college students 3 semesters of college credit at participating institutions while working for 12 months getting on-the-job training. In the Apprenticeship Pathways Project that was launched by the American Council on Education’s College Credit Recommendation Service (ACE), 6 institutions have been granted recognition to issue earned digital credentials.

Students participating in IBM’s software engineering apprenticeship program take a minimum of 200 hours of structured learning that takes place in a virtual classroom and 6-9 months of hands-on training. This creates a win-win situation for both students and employers. Students get the much-needed training and employers get employees who are better prepared to quickly get on board.

In addition to IBM, Microsoft LEAP, Tectonic, the Wireless Infrastructure Association, and Electrical Training Alliance are working with ACE’s pilot program to offer credit for hands-on work experience.

Northeastern University has offered coop internships as part of their unique Center for the Future of Higher Education and Talent Strategy for decades. Ivy Tech, Bismarck State, Excelsior, Rowan, Tidewater Community and CSU San Bernardino have pilot apprenticeships within the ACE program.

College students can participate in internships for credit through ACE, or they can work with college professors and advisors at their colleges to get credit in field study, internship, or other programs.


December 6, 2021

2 Tips for saving (lots of) water

Here in California, we’re facing water shortages and severe drought. Local municipalities now have strict water restrictions and neighbors are “drought shaming“, i.e. reporting others’ misuse of water (washing cars, sprinkling lawns). Consumers are even going after commercial growers who export crops like almonds to foreign countries or bottled water companies (like Nestle) for selling our precious water reserves for profits.

So what can you do?

Tip #1: Set up a water-catchment system to collect 1000s of gallons of rainwater
I didn’t realize I could capture almost 8,000 gallons of water from just one storm until we tested out our new rain catchment systems in 2012. Surprisingly, the entire 5,000-gallon tank filled up in just one night! Nine years ago, we installed a 4,999 gallon tank (a 5,000 gallon tank requires a building permit!) to collect rainwater from the road above our house.  It was simple to do! We laid gravel on a 10-foot by 10-foot pad and Scotts Valley Sprinkler and Pipe Supply delivered it exactly where we wanted it to be. We diverted the existing drainage pipes to pour into the top of our tank and hooked the tank up to our drip irrigation system for our fruit tree orchard.

Thrilled by our ability to capture so much water in just one night, we bought 10 IBC tanks that each hold 275 gallons of water. We lined all 10 IBC tanks up behind our house and connected them together with a 2″ PVC pipe. Then we diverted one of the rain gutters from our rooftop to pour directly into one of the IBC tanks. Again, with just one storm, all 10 IBC tanks filled in just one night!

A few years later, we added 8 more IBC tanks on the other side of our house so we could capture almost all of the rain that hits our roof. We water our entire fruit orchard with these water-capture systems every summer.

It’s reassuring to know that if we are ever without water, we could always chlorinate these tanks and have drinking water. Peace of mind…

Tip #2: Reuse water from your sinks and showers
Our water tables are low and farmers have pumped so much water that land masses are buckling and surface patches are sinking. So what can you do? Use the water from your tap TWICE before it goes down the drain. Here are 2 easy ways to save between 3-6 gallons of water per person each day.

Capture the water you run while you’re waiting for the warm water in your tap. In your bathroom, place a plastic tub or bucket under your faucet to catch the water as you brush your teeth and wash your face. In the kitchen, place a pitcher or bucket to catch the water while you wash veggies or rinse dishes.

When the buckets fill up, water plants or fill up buckets in the bathroom to flush toilets later.

Fill up buckets as you wait for the hot water before showering. Depending on where your hot water heater is located, you may waste 1-2 gallons of water before the water is warm enough to step into your shower. Then, as you shower, place a bucket in front of you and one behind you to capture water as you wash your hair. With my long hair, I can fill up 3 buckets of water just to wash my hair!

When I’m done with my shower, I use these buckets to flush the toilet all day and night. I don’t use any domestic water to flush the toilet!

You can buy 1-gallon buckets at a dollar store and create this water-saving system for under $10. So lather up and capture your water. You’ll reduce the water you use and possibly prevent $500 water fines!

Check out this video to see how you could benefit from these DIY water catchment plans. Now you can set up your own bathroom and rooftop water systems.

November 22, 2021

How to save money on your Christmas tree

Worried about getting that perfect Christmas tree this year? After losing over 4 million acres to wildfires last year and the crazy supply chain problems this holiday season, prices are going to skyrocket for both live and artificial trees.

I have a solution: Build your own ECO XMAS TREE!

Over 30 years ago, I built my first Eco Xmas Tree. I didn’t want to cut down a beautiful pine tree just to set it out on the curb 2 weeks later, yet I also really didn’t like fake trees because I loved the aroma of fresh cut trees.

Here’s how I did it:
1. Built a “trunk” out of 2” x 4” Doug Fir
2. Drilled holes in the trunk for the branches
3. Cut pine tree branches of various sizes
4. Placed the branches in the trunk
5. Filled all the bald spots to create the perfect tree
6. Spray with water to keep it moist

So for under $20, I created the Xmas tree trunk that has lasted me 30 years. I get pine branches on my property but you can get them at Christmas tree farms or forests.

Save a lot of money, don’t cut a live tree, and still have Christmas (aroma and all) this year.

Check out the book I wrote: The Eco Xmas Tree