Blogs - 8/111 - Merit Educational Consultants

Wondering how college students fared during the 2nd semester of remote classes? 85% of freshmen, sophomores, and juniors reported that the pandemic has negatively affected their grades during Fall 2020. The survey included 232 public and private colleges.

Seems that students weren’t happy with the quality of virtual learning, and some even stated that free resources like Khan Academy were more helpful than remote classwork. Yikes! Others suffered from mental health issues around academic changes and coronavirus fears.

With all of the uncertainty with testing, vaccines, distancing requirements, and general safety precautions taken on college campuses, this is not surprising. Not sure what the new normal will be for college students on campuses in the near future, but I’m sure everyone is going to be much more aware of how viruses spread and what students will need to do to protect themselves.

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January 17, 2021

2nd semester grades down, again.

Wondering how college students fared during the 2nd semester of remote classes? 85% of freshmen, sophomores, and juniors reported that the pandemic has negatively affected their grades during Fall 2020. The survey included 232 public and private colleges.

Seems that students weren’t happy with the quality of virtual learning, and some even stated that free resources like Khan Academy were more helpful than remote classwork. Yikes! Others suffered from mental health issues around academic changes and coronavirus fears.

With all of the uncertainty with testing, vaccines, distancing requirements, and general safety precautions taken on college campuses, this is not surprising. Not sure what the new normal will be for college students on campuses in the near future, but I’m sure everyone is going to be much more aware of how viruses spread and what students will need to do to protect themselves.

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January 16, 2021

Burn forests to save them?

After losing over 4 million acres of forests last year to wildfires in California – that’s 1/10th of our total forestland – we need to take a proactive approach to save the remaining 33 million acres. Native Americans have been doing prescribed burns for centuries, and now Cal Fire and the Federal Forest Service are planning to do just that.

The goal is to reduce fire risk on 1 million acres of forest and wildlands each year. They’ll do this by manually thinning overgrown forests and intentionally burning hundreds of thousands of acres annually. The federal government will handle the lion’s share of the forestland, while Cal Fire works with private landowners through the vegetation management program.

For the past 100 years, California has focused on suppressing all prescribed fires, and now we’re paying a huge price for that. Even though some residents oppose these burns due to increased air pollution, we need to reduce the possibilities of having more out-of-control wildland fires. I think we all can deal with a few smoky days while we create firebreaks and manage our forests so we don’t lose our homes, lives, and remaining forests.

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January 10, 2021

Should students live on campus beyond freshman year?

Both of my daughters lived on campus for 4 years while getting their undergraduate degrees at Stanford and Claremont McKenna College. As their mother, it gave me a sense of security knowing that they’d be on campus with other students and professors completely immersed in college life. Back when they were in college, very few colleges required students to live on campus for all 4 years, but now more colleges are requiring students to live on campus beyond freshman year.

By having all students on campus for 4 years, juniors and seniors mentor the frosh and sophomores. It gives students more opportunities to do research, get involved in campus activities, and well, just be a college student. When student rush to move off campus during their sophomore year, they don’t meet many new students after that. Instead, they socialize with their housemates off campus and they don’t participate in as many campus activities as they would if they were still living on campus.

Besides learning academics, students make important connections by networking with students. When living on campus, students build bigger and stronger connections simply because it’s happening all around them. Colleges that require all students to live on campus give students this opportunity to build their networks and organize events to foster this philosophy.

Indiana Univ Center for Postsecondary Research shows that students who live on campus are more likely to complete their degrees than students who move off campus. Michigan State just announced that they are requiring both freshmen and sophomore students to live on campus. Some students are opposing this mandate stating that they want to be more independent and that it’s less expensive to live with friends off campus. Some even claim that the college is trying to put the burden on students to pay for additional housing and meal plans to make up for their losses caused by the pandemic.

Whatever the reason for keeping students on campus for more than freshman year, I support giving students the time to build those networks, immerse themselves in student activities, and enjoy the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to live in a utopia of 18-to-22 year old students. They’ll get their independence and live in the “real” world soon enough.

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December 21, 2020

Time to get serious about protecting one another — especially our docs and nurses!

My daughter sent this to me. Seriously, when will they understand that their actions are putting everyone at risk of getting COVID-19?

December 14, 2020

Making holiday gifts during the pandemic

Every year, I get together with my family to discuss what holiday gift we’ll make to give to our family and friends. This year we decided to make chili sunflower seeds – our favorite topping for salads, pastas, and eggs. It’s a time for us to make our lists, order ingredients, make the gifts, and then ship them out or deliver them. By working together during this busy time of year, we make time to be together.  Sometimes we create new things like shampoo bars or special recipe lip balms. Part of the fun – frustration – is getting the recipe right.

While COVID-19 has certainly put a damper on getting together and doing traditional things, we still created 250+ gift bags. This year, I did all the cooking but we still had to agree on labels, coordinate shipping that we did together through texts and calls. I sent photos with constant updates so everyone was still part of the process. While I missed the group activities and all the fuss that goes along with making our annual gifts, I’m glad that our family tradition continues even during a pandemic.

So stop on by to pick up your chili sunflower seeds!

December 13, 2020

Growing a variety of mushrooms from grain and sawdust spawn

I’ve always been intrigued by the concept of growing mushrooms. They’re mysterious because they seem to pop up at random places yet I’ve heard they’re difficult to grow. So I hired one of our Merit Academy teachers to be my mentor. She helped me select spawn and all of the ingredients and equipment I needed. Yesterday, we put together a mini mushroom farm in my greenhouse, veggie garden, and oak grove.

I got a truck load of woodchips at Lewis Tree Service, 2 bags of sawdust at San Lorenzo Lumber, coffee grounds at Starbucks, and compost from my garden. We mixed up all of these ingredients to make the “food” for the mycelium (mushrooms). Then we layered the grain spawn on the woodchip mixture. It felt good to turn the soil and fill the planter boxes.

We also created mini totem poles and put the mycelium between each log. Two months ago, I drilled holes in an oak log to start mushroom plugs. There are so many ways to cultivate mushrooms!

Now we wait for the mushrooms to grow. We selected Pink Oyster, Blue Oyster, Almond Agaricus, Golden Oyster, Lion’s Mane and Pioppino mushrooms. Can’t wait for our first harvest! I’ll be able to get spawn from my mushrooms to grow in our lab. If all goes right, I should have huge bounties of mushrooms in 10 days that I can propagate forever. Well, I’m not good at growing things so this is a big experiment for me.

December 12, 2020

An easy way to know if you’ve been exposed to COVID-19

Okay Californians – let’s stop the spread of COVID-19. Finally, there is an app (CA Notify) that tells you when you’ve been exposed without doing contact tracing. This system augments the contact tracing process by notifying people you’ve been in contact with – even those you don’t know. By using your cell phone (Android or iPhone), the app simply notifies people that an anonymous person they were in close contact with has tested positive for COVID-19. CA Notify doesn’t know the identities or contact information of the individuals.

If you were unknowingly exposed to COVID-19, this app will notify you. Your privacy remains intact because the app doesn’t know your identity or your contact information. It’s ideal for those who want to protect their privacy because your location is not tracked and they don’t have information about the people you meet. The best part, they contact people you don’t know – like a salesperson or receptionist that you talked to. It’s more efficient than contact tracing because you most likely don’t have names and phone numbers of every person you see.

If a person tests positive for COVID-19, they’ll receive an anonymous verification code. They’ll also receive resources to quickly get tested and the medical care needed to prevent exposing others to COVID-19. You won’t get the name of the person, the location, or any details.

This app is free and it’s available for teens (ages 13-17) and all adults. I just signed up for this because I want to know if I’ve been exposed to anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19. This is an easy way for me to do my part to protect others, and myself.

Check it out:

December 2, 2020

Grades vs Pass/Fail; the Conversation Continues

As we approach the end of fall semester, college students across the nation are pushing to extend the Pass/Fail grading system they all received last spring. But, most colleges aren’t allowing it. Each college has set up their pandemic grading protocols – albeit by the seat of their pants – to deal with student issues. Some colleges allow students to choose between grades and pass/fail, but the problem is WHEN they allow students to make this decision. If the students choose this at the beginning of the term, that would be more fair than allowing students to choose just before finals. In other words, if a student is not doing well in a class, should they be able to opt for a Pass instead of a C?

When students have pass/fail marks on their transcripts instead of grades, it doesn’t work to their benefit when it comes to grad school. Admissions officers are going to prefer a transcript with real grades to one that is riddled with passes or no-pass/fails. If students are really suffering because of COVID-related issues, they can always discuss their circumstances in an essay or interview.

Even at the high school level, most students are receiving grades this term. High school students face the same dilemma as college students when it comes to competing to get into selective colleges. If their transcript shows stellar grades, the students will be more likely to impress admissions officers than students with a transcript filled with passes. So if a student is getting all A’s in their classes, a transcript with passes will make them appear to be average A-C students. Not good.

Spring 2019 and Fall 2020 have already set students back because of the chaos that ensued during the transition to online classes last fall and the fact that online classes just don’t offer the same learning experience that face-to-face classes do. Students who get grades will do much better than students who get passes.

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November 28, 2020

Thanksgiving outdoors on our redwood deck

Nicole and Brad joined us for Thanksgiving on our redwood deck. Separated by 10 feet, we sat at bistro tables in the oak grove. We just installed lanterns, string lights, and electricity so we could have our buffet warmers, heaters, and music. Instead of hosting a party for 15-40 people where we’re running around and leading activities, we got to talk and enjoy ourselves.

   

November 23, 2020

Home hardening: Removing all vegetation around my house

When the fire marshal and inspector told me that the wisteria and trumpet vines I have been meticulously training to climb the walls and railings of my house would act like a wick in a wildfire, I spent 2 weeks hand cutting down every plant within 5 feet of my house. It was oddly reassuring while it was really sad. What a crazy world we’re living in today.