projectmerit Archives - Merit Educational Consultants

I remember worrying about the public and private schools in my neighborhood when I was pregnant with Nicole, my first child. I visited many classes to find the “perfect” school for her – and didn’t find one school that provided the academic rigor, depth in critical thinking and problem solving, the arts and theater, and the physical activities (dance, sports) that I was looking for. I didn’t bash schools for not offering what I wanted for my daughter; instead, I supplemented both of my daughters’ education so they would love to learn and get all of the important experiences to keep them engaged.

That’s exactly what parents will need to do during this pandemic, and most likely after this pandemic has passed. Yes, things are different now. Whether your school is 100% online, hybrid, or on campus, you can supplement your child’s education so they thrive. Use this time to experiment and try new approaches.

You can tell if your child is engaged in classes and work (asynchronous or synchronous). This is where you can fill the void by giving them interesting assignments or even inviting a mentor or teacher to work with them in virtual sessions. Here are some activities that I’ve set up for families during this pandemic:

1. Bamboo vs Oak Tree Experiment (to find faster, efficient ways to produce oxygen in the atmosphere)

2. Reading Challenge (to increase their reading fluency and comprehension)

3. Math Challenge (to build a solid math foundation so they’re prepared to move on to the next level)

4. Gardening Experiment (to determine which organic pesticides work best)

5. Research Writing (to teach them how to write a comprehensive research paper – something they probably will never learn in school)

6. Create a Podcast (to find their voices – and do research – and share their opinions)

7. Start a business (to learn about marketing, accounting, ecommerce)

If you find that your child is not thriving in whatever mode of learning they are engaged in, you can hire teachers to teach their classes one-on-one. Some states require that students be enrolled in a public or private school, so check with your state. It’s actually easier to open a private school for just your children (in most states) than to jump through hoops with homeschooling or independent studies programs.

You can also start a pandemic pod, see my blog: How to Form a Pandemic Pod for Free that can be free to the hosting family. In this setup, the hosting family hires the teacher, sets the curriculum and invites 2-3 other families to join. The other families’ tuition covers all costs so the pandemic pod is free to the hosting family. I’ve even written curriculum for preschool through high school.

While this is a stressful time as you make difficult decisions about whether to send your child back to school (if they’re opening) or worry that your child is slipping behind academically (for online classes), know that you have many options. Sometimes chaos gives us the unique opportunity to reinvent ourselves, and in the case of our children’s education, we can create something really stimulating and challenging for them. For me, I started Merit Academy with the projectMERIT theme. And yes, it was created when I realized that the existing academic options just weren’t good enough.

August 15, 2020

Supplement your child’s education so they thrive during the pandemic

I remember worrying about the public and private schools in my neighborhood when I was pregnant with Nicole, my first child. I visited many classes to find the “perfect” school for her – and didn’t find one school that provided the academic rigor, depth in critical thinking and problem solving, the arts and theater, and the physical activities (dance, sports) that I was looking for. I didn’t bash schools for not offering what I wanted for my daughter; instead, I supplemented both of my daughters’ education so they would love to learn and get all of the important experiences to keep them engaged.

That’s exactly what parents will need to do during this pandemic, and most likely after this pandemic has passed. Yes, things are different now. Whether your school is 100% online, hybrid, or on campus, you can supplement your child’s education so they thrive. Use this time to experiment and try new approaches.

You can tell if your child is engaged in classes and work (asynchronous or synchronous). This is where you can fill the void by giving them interesting assignments or even inviting a mentor or teacher to work with them in virtual sessions. Here are some activities that I’ve set up for families during this pandemic:

1. Bamboo vs Oak Tree Experiment (to find faster, efficient ways to produce oxygen in the atmosphere)

2. Reading Challenge (to increase their reading fluency and comprehension)

3. Math Challenge (to build a solid math foundation so they’re prepared to move on to the next level)

4. Gardening Experiment (to determine which organic pesticides work best)

5. Research Writing (to teach them how to write a comprehensive research paper – something they probably will never learn in school)

6. Create a Podcast (to find their voices – and do research – and share their opinions)

7. Start a business (to learn about marketing, accounting, ecommerce)

If you find that your child is not thriving in whatever mode of learning they are engaged in, you can hire teachers to teach their classes one-on-one. Some states require that students be enrolled in a public or private school, so check with your state. It’s actually easier to open a private school for just your children (in most states) than to jump through hoops with homeschooling or independent studies programs.

You can also start a pandemic pod, see my blog: How to Form a Pandemic Pod for Free that can be free to the hosting family. In this setup, the hosting family hires the teacher, sets the curriculum and invites 2-3 other families to join. The other families’ tuition covers all costs so the pandemic pod is free to the hosting family. I’ve even written curriculum for preschool through high school.

While this is a stressful time as you make difficult decisions about whether to send your child back to school (if they’re opening) or worry that your child is slipping behind academically (for online classes), know that you have many options. Sometimes chaos gives us the unique opportunity to reinvent ourselves, and in the case of our children’s education, we can create something really stimulating and challenging for them. For me, I started Merit Academy with the projectMERIT theme. And yes, it was created when I realized that the existing academic options just weren’t good enough.

July 20, 2020

4 Alternatives to On-Campus or Distance Learning

As we approach the start of the 2020-2021 school year, parents and students are worried and frustrated by the decisions their schools are making due to the coronavirus pandemic. Teachers and administrators are concerned about spreading the virus and how they can conduct classes keeping students 6 feet apart. Parents and students realize that their spring 2020 online classes did not offer the quality instruction and overall learning that they had hoped for. Another year of distance learning or hybrid programs will undeniably disrupt both the quality and depth of instruction and learning. So what are your alternative choices?

1. Individual Tutoring (Virtual)
While online or hybrid instruction offers safe learning environments, actual instruction time with real teachers and the depth of material covered during the semester is often truncated. Teachers may not cover all chapters in their textbooks and may require less assignments and exams. While this may seem trivial, students need to receive instruction for all concepts listed in the class curriculum in order for them to be successful in the following year’s courses. So even if the student gets an “A” in the class, they may not be prepared for the next class in the sequence.
Many students are working with tutors to take instruction to a deeper level. By having a tutor review and discuss concepts in depth, students can complete the course being better prepared and more confident. Tutors can fill the gaps when teachers simply don’t have the time or resources to support individual students online.

2. Small Homeschool with Real Teacher (Face-to-face)
Young students and students with learning differences can benefit from having classes at home with just a few students (2 or 3). Parents can select a teacher to teach these classes using curriculum and materials. All parties would be tested for the coronavirus and they would wear masks and maintain 6 feet distance. These classes offer more individualized instruction than online classes. Classes can take place in the home or outdoors. The hosting family can charge tuition for the classes to cover the cost of the teacher wages. I wrote this book to help set up these small homeschools.

3. One-on-One Classes with a Real Teacher (Virtual)
For high school students who want high-caliber individual instruction and grades to separate themselves from their peers (and competition for selective colleges), they can take accredited classes taught one-on-one with a real teacher. This ensures that the student develops skills and learns concepts at a deeper level. Classes are taught using Google Meet in a virtual setting. The teacher individualizes the instruction to best fit the student’s learning modes. Colleges accept these courses and appreciate that the student has taken extra measures to build their academic foundation so they can be successful when attending college. Check out Merit Academy’s one-on-one classes.

4. Do a project (Virtual)
While students are not taking classes on campus and participating in afterschool activities or extracurriculars, they may have more free time. Rather than playing videogames or binge-watching TV shows, students can do a project. Projects can range from writing a book, to developing an app, to creating a non-profit organization, to engineering a device. Some of my students are creating solutions to supply chain problems, while others are engineering fire prevention devices. One student is writing a book on teen angst with tips on how to avoid problems. These projects give students the opportunity to explore possible careers, and they all become more confident and interesting people when they complete these projects. Check out Beat the College Admissions Game with ProjectMerit.

If you don’t like your school options for 2020-2021, consider alternatives. You can make this unprecedented school dilemma a positive opportunity for your child to develop academic and professional skills so they can be more prepared to return to the classroom and position themselves to get into top colleges.

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April 29, 2020

When schools lose revenue, don’t let your kids fall through the cracks

We are just beginning to see the impact of the coronavirus on our education system in the US. In California, we expect to lose about $1,400-$2,000 per student. That’s 15% reduction from the $13,000 per student the state now receives. This will likely translate to larger class sizes, layoffs and furloughs, and pay cuts when we resume classes. We’ll need much more than emergency funds and stimulus packages to save our schools, we’ll need the federal government to step in.

As a college advisor and director at Merit Educational Consultants, I’ve advised my students and their families to supplement their current education to ensure that they continue to learn and that they’ll be prepared for classes whenever they resume. I’ve taken a lot of heat for my stance because not all students can do this. Disadvantaged communities are always hit the hardest and my heart goes out to all of them. That said, here’s what I am recommending.

1. Reading:
This may be the only time when kids are bored of watching Netflix! Order books or ebooks and set up reading time each day. This will build reading fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Discuss the books with your children and watch movies based on the books. With at least 16 weeks before school starts up again, they can read dozens of books. Introduce classics to build the reading literacy.
2. Writing:
Writing critical analyses about the books they read will give them a huge advantage when they return to their classes. This requires them to think about the story lines and practice writing. Most classes aren’t requiring students to write essays at this time so having them write every day will improve their writing skills. They can also write letters to grandparents and family that they miss. Bringing back letter writing can be a good thing.
3. Math:
Continue to do math exercises in their textbooks or online programs. Math, like writing, requires practice and mileage. If they stop doing math, their brains will atrophy and they’ll fall behind when school starts up again. Give them math computer games that reinforce basic math skills. Move ahead in math textbooks and explore online programs like Khan Academy to get lessons and practice problems.
4. Science:
Review and cover concepts taught since the start of the school year. This will reinforce weak areas and introduce new lessons. Check online for labs and Youtube videos to enhance classes and to ensure that they are ready to move on to the next level in the fall.
5. Modern Languages:
Introduce radio, TV, and movies (with subtitles) in the modern language that your child is studying in school or any language of interest. This helps them stay tuned in with the language and it will build vocabulary and improve their accents. They can do online classes and play video games.
6. Projects:
Choose something that fascinates them and build a project around that. They can do something to help others during this pandemic. They can also write a book, start a club, create an app, design a gadget, build furniture, and do just about anything they’re interested in. Working with family and friends in Hangouts or Zoom, they can get guidance and support to keep them going. For project ideas, check out ProjectMerit.

Many classes will not complete all of the lessons listed on the syllabi, so block off time for your kids to do them on their own. Read those chapters or go online and get supplementary Youtube videos, Khan Academy lessons, or worksheets. By having a routine to do these supplementary activities, we may stave off stress and uncertainty. Kids love routines and they will be more prepared for school if they can spend a little time doing academics at home while sheltering in place.

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March 25, 2020

Benefits of growing your own mushrooms

I just harvested my first crop of shiitake mushrooms! Besides tasting delicious, mushrooms provide health benefits, and they can even devour plastic waste and possibly pests – I have a student doing a project on mushrooms as a pesticide. By growing your own mushrooms, you don’t have to worry about getting viruses from people touching them at the grocery store.

I used a kit from Far West Fungi to get started because it was so easy to do. They provide the substrate and the spores so all I had to do was open the bag, put in a few slits in the plastic bag, and watch them grow! This substrate will produce 4 batches of shiitake mushrooms over the next few months. I’m planning on growing mushrooms using spores put into tree branches next. Stay tuned for my next mushroom adventure!

March 24, 2020

Projects give stay-at-home kids a purpose

With teachers scrambling to set up online classes; students doing minimal homework and not taking tests, finals, or standardized exams; and nobody leaving home for extracurricular activities, kids are getting bored. There’s only so many shows to watch, and even gamers are looking for a break.

When kids face uncertainty about their future and worry about their parents and grandparents getting COVID-19, our children are dealing with stress and anxiety. They can’t control their lives and there are no schedules: school, after-school activities, homework, test prep, chores, etc. Kids like routines and schedules – even though they used to complain about them – and they want to feel valued.

So let’s give our kids a purpose. Talk to them about the coronavirus and how it is affecting millions of people around the world. Compare trends in Asia and Europe to the United States. Read about what hundreds of humanitarians and volunteers to help those who are sick or homebound. Inspire your kids to do something to help others. This will make them feel important and appreciated.

With all the free time they now have, they can do things to help their local high-risk population, support healthcare professionals, or start a unique project. Kids can find creative ways to get food to seniors who are sheltering in place. They can sew masks for hospital staff. Kids can also start a project doing anything they care about.

All of these projects will give them valuable skills while boosting the way they feel about themselves. The best part — these projects will give them great talking points on their college application essays and interviews. By doing good things for others, they’ll boost their chances of getting into top colleges and winning scholarship dollars. Learn more about doing projects by reading my book: Beat the College Admissions Game by Doing a Project.

March 5, 2020

Gap Year Projects

What’s the Rush to Go to College?

After 12 years of elementary, middle, and high school, why are kids so anxious to go straight to a 4-year college, and then possibly grad school? With the pressures they face to get top grades, study for SATs/ACTs, volunteer, and do extracurricular activities, kids burn out and lose focus on what and why they’re doing everything. I believe that when kids take a GAP YEAR to find what it is students are interested in and get involved, they’ll make smarter decisions about their future careers and where they want to live. They’ll also BE HAPPIER!

This one or two-year period gives students time to pursue a project – something they’ve always wanted to do but never had the time to do it. They can build a tiny house, they can lead others on an expedition, they can offer relief to victims of climate disasters, and more. Kids need to feel useful – either as part of a team to help others or as an individual doing a project to start something on their own. They can also start a business!

College will always be there and they’ll probably get into a better college if they take a gap year to show their interests and passions. Many other countries require that kids give a year or two to support their military so they build patriotism and camaraderie. Some religions require students to do missionary work before starting college or moving on to the adult world.

While I have concerns about pushing kids into the military or missionary work, I do strongly believe that all kids can benefit from taking a breather from the stress of getting into top colleges and doing a project to benefit society or help them figure out what they really want to do when they grow up.

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December 7, 2017

Grade Inflation is Real…

…and how it will affect your child’s college admissions is alarming.

We all hear about grade inflation – when teachers give A’s to average students – and we look the other way, especially when our kids benefit from them, right?  I’ve heard about teachers giving students a full-letter grade bump just for showing up to take the standardized tests at school each year. Others give students 10 points for bringing in snacks or class supplies.  What’s worst of all are teachers who offer so much extra credit that students don’t do their work or study for tests because they know that one way or another, they can pull their terrible grades up to A’s by the end of the semester.  None of this builds character or prepares students for college.

Grade inflation hurts the students.

Yup!  Because so many schools are inflating grades – especially in white, affluent schools—colleges can’t rely on grade point averages (GPAs) to assess whether or not the students will be successful in their colleges.  So when colleges can’t rely on the students’ grades, they revert to the SATs and ACTs.  After all, college-bound students take the exact same test in a proctored classroom on the same day across the country.  If we’re comparing apples to apples, this may seem more reliable than GPAs.

But SATs and ACTs don’t determine which students will be our next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs.  Testing reading comprehension, grammar, math and science skills in a timed, multiple-choice format does not weed out students who would do poorly in college. Instead, students who do well on standardized tests today are those who can afford private SAT/ACT tutoring and spend years preparing for these tests.

Both the inflated GPA at wealthy white schools and high SAT/ACT scores due to expensive prep programs give these affluent students an unfair advantage.  They aren’t better equipped to succeed in college; they’re simply able to afford to attend schools that give away A’s and spend many hours under the expensive supervision of SAT/ACT coaches.

The good news is that college admissions officers receive school profiles that list GPAs and demographics so they know which schools inflate grades.  And colleges that require personal statements, essays, letters of recommendation and interviews use an eclectic approach to selecting their incoming classes.  When a student stands out because they’ve done a project or something remarkable, colleges notice.

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December 7, 2017

TEDxMeritAcademy Speaker Pascal Costa

Thrilled that we are hosting a TEDx event at the Rio Theatre in Santa Cruz! Join us on Aug 14, 2017 at 7 pm.  Get your tickets for TEDxMeritAcademy at wwwtedxmeritacademy.com.  Meet Pascal Costa, one of our speakers!

“How to stop overpopulation before we reach 10 billion people on Earth”

Overpopulation is a huge problem. We have too many people, and because of our immense growth experienced in the last century, we are experiencing new problems. Because of overpopulation, we have recklessly produced dirty energy and destroyed fertile land to meet the needs of our ever-expanding population. Forests have been decimated in order to make room for farmland and to produce lumber. We have exploited natural resources such as soil, water minerals, oil, and coal because we have grown dependent on them. As a result of our growing numbers and exploitation of natural resources, we have caused the extinction of 130 mammal species, and have endangered 250 species. Today, about 1000 species are now threatened. Through overpopulation, we have increased pollution, consumption, and the deterioration of land. There’s a simple way to reduce the world’s population and I’ll share my idea with you.

About Pascal Costa:
Pascal Costa founded Preventing OverPopulation, a non-profit organization that educates child-bearing people about how their decisions to have children directly affect the world.  She has presented her project at the Earth Day Santa Cruz festival and she was interviewed on Earth Watch Radio. Pascal recently graduated from high school and plans to continue to advocate for population control in college.