Preventing College Suicide

Suicide attempts on college campuses just reached 13% in 2018. This is really alarming – and sad at the same time. College mental health programs are struggling with ways to address this rise. One college now requires students to take an online suicide-prevention training course to learn techniques to help peers who are suicidal. They also require professors to take a similar course so they can recognize at-risk students.

Most students experiencing stress don’t seek professional help but instead confide in friends or peers. College resident assistants (RAs) are often the most likely support person to hear from students who are suffering from depression or anxiety.

When I was an RA in college, one of my students left me a strange note that didn’t make sense to me (I was 19 years old at the time). I noticed that his car was in the student parking lot but he wasn’t in class and wasn’t in the dorm. Panicked, I organized a search team and we combed the redwood forest and entire campus to find him. This had a happy ending because he was a victim of poor communication skills – not depression. He had left me a note attempting to tell me that he was leaving campus to visit his family, but his writing style was difficult to decipher, hence, the search party.

Giving students and professors tools to recognize suicidal red flags can save lives. These at-risk students should definitely seek professional mental health therapists to help them navigate the transition from home to college and other life obstacles. I like the combination of friends/peers and professionals looking out for one another – it makes college a safer place for all.


Cell Coverage During Power Outages

As California Mother of the Year, I am outraged about how cell phones failed during last month’s PG&E outages. Cell phone companies should have backup power and solutions for power outages. Earthquakes, fires, and other natural disasters are going to become regular occurrences – thanks to the climate crisis – and as an industry that services everyone from life-saving doctors to emergency dispatchers to people who rely on medical devices, CELL PHONE COMPANIES NEED TO SUPPLY SERVICE, ESPECIALLY DURING POWER OUTAGES.

I am organizing Micro Communities where neighbors work together to make sure everyone is okay and to get help for those who are not. Each Micro Community leader works with their local fire departments to keep them abreast of problems so fire chiefs can better assess disasters and get word out to residents about evacuation plans specific to their areas. Cell phone coverage is essential in our communication.

I certainly hope that cell phone companies are implementing solutions to power outages and maintaining their equipment, unlike PG&E. One benefit we have is the ability to change cell phone carriers – something we don’t have with PG&E.  Check with your cell phone provider to demand cell coverage during power outages, or tell them you’ll find a provider that will. Money talks.


VIDEO: Sethumadhav Perumalla's TEDxMeritAcademy Video!

In September, Merit Academy hosted TEDxMeritAcademy at DNA's Comedy Lab in Santa Cruz.

Sethumadhav Perumalla was a featured speaker, and his TEDx Talk is embedded below.

“Influence on Teenagers” by Sethumadhav Perumalla: Sethumadhav discusses online misinformation that only a clown could believe. He explains how teenagers are easily influenced in ways that harm themselves and others. Acting on and spreading false medical information can lead to illnesses and deaths. Insulting people online leads to mass cyberbullying through copycat behavior. People shouldn’t be swayed into believing or repeating online information without enough evidence. How teens act online can negatively affect them and other users of social media. His advice can help teens avoid becoming stupid clowns.

About Sethumadhav PerumallaSethumadhav Perumalla is a senior and interested in business and finance. He enjoys playing video games, spending time with friends, and reading. He wants to help other teens learn about online and social media dangers which pose significant threats to themselves and others.


What REALLY Gets Kids Into Top Colleges (Hint: Not Millions of Dollars)

With all of the shocking news and chatter around the college admissions scandal, I wish the news would stop focusing on how the rich and famous buy their way into colleges, and instead, focus on what everyone can do to stand out in the college admissions process. Because GPAs vary between schools – some schools give A’s when students participate in class and turn in homework, while others only give A’s to a few well-deserving students, colleges know that grades mean different things at different schools. Many colleges have dropped the SAT or ACT requirements and only the Ivies and Stanford are requiring the SAT II exams.

So what makes college admissions officers notice an applicant?

A PROJECT. When a student starts a business, writes a book, creates an app, engineers a device, or organizes a non-profit, they stand out. It’s not rocket science, but it does take some thought and perseverance. These projects aren’t part of a school assignment or a club responsibility.  They’re something that fascinates the student and something they can do on their own. 

Projects can be started in 9th grade or any time while they’re in high school.  They can work with mentors to help them develop their projects and advisors to guide them through the process.  While doing their projects, they’ll learn how to set up a budget, lay out a timeline, promote their ideas, send press releases, and recruit volunteers.  Check out these projects!  These valuable skills can help them in high school, college, and career. I find that students who do projects become self-confident, innovative, and proactive. 

While some parents are willing to pay millions of dollars to get their kids into top colleges, smart parents give their children opportunities to develop professional skills that get into college on their own merits!

Tracking Software for College Admissions

We all know that Amazon and Google track our internet activities – we see ads targeted at us based on our searches. It’s a brilliant marketing strategy but kind of creepy that there’s a cyberworld out there that knows more about us than our families and friends. Well, college admissions officers just entered the secret tracking world, and we're starting to learn what they’re looking for and what they’re doing with the data.

The top colleges and universities in the world compete to enroll the brightest students with the most potential for success. They accept more students than they could actually enroll just to ensure that they have a full freshman class every fall. Having only a finite amount of scholarships and grants to offer students, colleges want to know if they are your safety schools. In other words, why bother making enticing offers to students who will never enroll because you have your heart set on your reach colleges.

Colleges are now checking your web-browsing habits to see how many times you’ve visited their website and how many pages you checked out. With tracking software on their college website, they can see all the pages you visit and how long you spend on each page. They also map your geographical location, among other things. By analyzing all of the data collected by your browsing behavior, colleges create an “Affinity Index” to estimate your level of interest in attending their college.

Not surprising, colleges are also getting access to your family's financial history to see if you have the funds to help them reach their revenue goals – in other words, will you be able to pay tuition without their aid? They have been doing this for decades when choosing which high schools to send their recruiting teams to.  You’ll rarely see any of the top 200 colleges at college fairs in low-income schools.

Whatever happened to colleges admitting students who are the smartest and most talented? With an undergraduate degree costing almost $300,000 at private universities, looks like the colleges are squeezing middle and lower class students from obtaining a bachelor’s degree. Tracking students’ web browsing and financial histories should be illegal.  I can only imagine how they’ll be watching students’ online relationships, social media, and other private spaces if we don’t stop them now.


With Ongoing Fires and Power Outages You NEED A Go Bag!

As California’s Mother of the Year, I’d like to make sure that we’re prepared to protect our homes, families, and pets as we conntinue through FIRE SEASON. Everyone knows that it’s a matter of “WHEN” not “IF” there will be another catastrophic wildfire like had last year when both northern (Paradise Camp Fire) and southern (Woolsey Fire) destroyed almost 20,000 structures, burned almost 250,000 acres, and killed 88 people. So let’s work together to prevent a fire from taking out your homes and neighborhoods.

Fill an old backpack or suitcase with things you’ll need to survive in the case of an evacuation. I created 2 Go-Bags. 
Go-Bag #1: In my car trunk
This bag has things that I need to survive for 3-5 days:
__ First aid kit
__ Food (high protein, energy boosting, non-perishable, plates/utensils)
__ Personal hygiene (toothbrush/paste, shampoo/conditioner, tampons/pads, contact lens cases/solution, medications, etc.)
__ Water (3 gal/person; water purification tablets)
__ Tools (wrench, screwdriver, saw, hammer, can opener, phone chargers)
__ Battery-powered radio and flashlight
__ Clothes (long pants, sweatshirts/jackets, sturdy shoes, hats, etc)
__ Sleeping bags/pillows
__ Paperwork (copies of IDs, insurance policies, prescriptions, important phone numbers, back-up drives, and Cash (small bills))
__ Pet plans (dog bowls, vaccination records, leash)

Go-Bag #2: In my house
This bag contains a list of things for me to grab before I evacuate my house. This prevents you from forgetting precious items during the chaos.
__ Precious jewelry
__ Cash
__ Medications/Medical equipment
__ Important documents (mortgage, insurance, investments, etc)
__ Computer drives/laptops/back-up drives
__ Photo albums
__ Videotapes/drives
__ Framed photos
__ Artwork

By signing up for CodeRED, this reverse 9-1-1 system will alert you of important messages in your county. All you need to do is sign up with your cell or VOIP phone number as well as GPS service,and you’ll automatically receive emergency messages (evacuation and disaster updates). 

During an emergency, your local fire department will have limited time to reach out to affected residents. If you inform them of who lives in your home (including how many disabled or elderly people), how many indoor and outdoor pets/livestock, gas tanks, electricity meters, water storage tanks, etc, they can more efficiently rescue victims.
__ Full names of each resident
__ Street address (including specific directions if the house is not on the main road)
__ Contact info (landline, cell phone, email)
__ Ages of residents who are disabled, elderly, or children
__ Pet names, breeds, ages, and location (indoor/outdoor)
__ Number and location of propane/gas tanks
__ Number and location of PG&E meters/shut-off valves
__ Number, location, and size of water tanks (specify valve type, pump, and hose) (current level of water)
__ Medical/Paramedic/EMT/CPR training
__ Access roads for evacuation (describe and indicate if a fire truck and/or vehicle can use in case of an emergency)
__ Ham radio (licensed)

Every household should set up an evacuation plan that consists of collecting go-bags, pets, and family members/neighbors. Know your evacuation routes, and if you have only exit route by car, know other routes that you can take on foot. Practice this with your family.

Plan to meet at one central location after a disaster. Assume that cell phone service will be down and that everyone will be hoofing it to this location.  Choose a place that will be safe in the case of a fire or earthquake. My family meets in the Safeway parking lot where there is plenty of asphalt and few structures.  We’ve agreed that if we should move from the lot, that we would post a note with the new destination on a light pole.

Sometimes you can reach people out of state, even when local calls won’t go through.  Choose a family member or friend who lives out of state to be the contact person. Tell all family and friends to give updates on location and physical condition to that emergency contact person and make sure that their name and contact info is in each of the go-bags. 

Now that we’ve discussed your plans with your immediate family and household members, let’s consider your neighborhoods. First create a neighborhood group that consists of no more than a dozen households. Get #3 information from each household. Select the group leader who will be responsible for making sure that all 12 households are informed, prepared, and evacuated should there be an emergency. The group leader can set up a phone tree by selecting 3 reliable volunteers to reach the households quickly. These 3 volunteers then contact 4 of the other families in the neighborhood and report back to the volunteers, who in turn report back to the group leader.  If there any dead ends (no contact or responses), then volunteers will go to the house to assess the situation and leave notification of the emergency. 

Within Your Home:
__ Install smoke detectors/alarms and test once per month
__ Maintain a fire extinguisher on every level of your house and in the kitchen, near fireplace/wood-burning stoves, and in the garage
__ Set alarm when heating a pan so you don’t forget it’s on
__ Clean dryer ducts
__ Clean heating ducts
__ Use and maintain appropriate extension cords
__ Store flammable liquid properly (ventilated space away from sparks and sunlight)
__ Place candles on ceramic/glass bowls large enough to hold all liquid wax
__ Use metal fire screen in front of fireplace to prevent flying embers

Around Your Home:
There are 2 defensible spaces to consider when evaluating your home.
Defensible Space Zone 1: Out to 30 feet from building
__ Remove all dead plants, grass and weeds
__ Clean rain gutters (leaves, pine needles)
__ Trim tree limbs up to 10 feet from ground and other trees
__ Remove tree branches that hang over roof, decks, and chimneys
__ Move wood piles to Zone 2 or further away
__ Remove flammable plants near windows and decks
__ Move wooden patio furniture and play structures to Zone 2

Defensible Space Zone 2: Out to 100 feet from building
__ Cut or weedwhack grass down to maximum 4 inches
__ Remove fallen leaves, twigs, and small branches over 3 inches in depth
__ Create horizontal spacing between shrubs (2-4 times the height) and trees (10-20 feet between)
__ Create vertical spacing between grass, shrubs and trees (3 times the height of the shrub, and 6-foot minimum clearance from ground to first branches)

In Your Neighborhood:
If you’re doing all you can to protect your home but your neighbors are not, have a block party or meeting to layout plans to work together to protect everyone.  After all, your house could go up in flames regardless of how many hours you’ve spent shoring it up. There are grants and other funds available to prevent wildland fires; check with your local fire department, CalFire and Resource Conservation District for your county.

Projects, Not Scandals

20% of millionaires with college-bound kids spend more than $50,000 to get them into college. That isn’t to say that they are part of the Operation Varsity Blues scandal, but these wealthy parents spend money on elite private school tuition, SAT/ACT tutoring, private tutors, and skill training for sports and music. What parents don’t get is that college admissions officers know that these students have many advantages that other less wealthy students don't have, and that high GPAs and SAT/ACT scores have now become the norm.

So what does it take to stand out and get into selective colleges?


Projects highlight student interests, tenacity, and success. Because these projects aren’t required by teachers, club leaders (Eagle Scout), and church groups (Habitat for Humanity), and are therefore not managed and organized by others, the student demonstrates how they’ve learned and utilized these vital life skills. Colleges love these projects because they recognize this passion as a key to success for students in their 4-year institutions.

One of my students is designing a device that will stop wildfires from spreading. He lives in Northern California and has a constant fear that his neighborhood might go up in flames like those in Paradise, CA, did last year. He is working with our chemical engineer to create a prototype that will instantly put out fires caused by PG&E power lines. Meeting with fire chiefs all over the state and researching fire retardants gives this student plenty to write about on his college application essays. He is likely the only student in the country engineering such a device – which will make him stand out.  He isn’t an athlete competing among the 80,000 high school athletes or a drummer among the 100,000 band members.

Another student is writing a fictional novel that focuses on teenage angst. She’s developed excellent storytelling skills as well as improving her grammar and mechanics. By researching problems with interpersonal communication, this student has learned how mean words can also be a reflection of the perpetrator’s personal insecurities. The student’s mother told me that her daughter has handled typical teen conflicts with maturity as a direct result of her work on this project.

College admissions officers appreciate reading about students who have the initiative to do something because it is important to themselves. They learn more about how the student has gone above the norm to do a project that has personal meaning.

Besides, imagine if the 4 million students who entered 9th grade each year did a project? They could solve many of the issues we face as a community, state, nation, and civilization. All students can do projects and they can find mentors in the retirement communities to support them. Wealthy parents, instead of cheating and stacking the decks for your child, support your child as they do a project – even finance their endeavors – but let them do the projects on their own.  They’ll become empowered with confidence and they’ll become interesting young adults – just the kind that selective colleges are admitting.

Screen Addiction Apps

Monitor your child’s screen time — even if you feel like you’re invading their privacy.  In your family, you are the parent and you are entitled to check their phones, laptops, and computers.  You have every right to know everything that they are seeing and doing.  

It constantly shocks me that parents feel insecure about looking at their children’s devices.  We need to parent our children’s online activities.  Even if you install screen addiction apps, you still need to monitor their activities.  

Set up a digital screen agreement between you and your children.  Include rewards and consequences for breaking the rules.  Remind your children that you bought their devices and that they are simply allowed to use them.  Just knowing that you have screen addiction or monitoring apps installed on their phones and that you have access to everything they’re doing will inevitably lead to your children staying away from unsavory sites and limiting their social and gaming usage.

Remember, you are the parent and they need you to do your job.