Summer Plans for High School Students

If you’re a parent of a high school student, you’re probably getting a lot of pressure from other families to send your child to some expensive summer camps on prestigious college campuses and load them up with SAT-intensive classes.  Umm. You’re probably hearing about how your neighbor’s kid is booked solid with back-to-back camps and programs that cost thousands of dollars. And, you worry that your child won’t be able to compete in the college admissions race.

But, don’t worry that your child isn’t keeping up with the Joneses this summer because colleges aren’t looking for those kind of students. Nope!  They might want the parent, but certainly not an entitled child whose parents did the research, paid the exorbitant fees, and forced them to participate.

Instead, keep your kids home this summer and encourage them to do a project. That’s right.  By brainstorming about doing something on their own over the summer, they’ll be using their creative parts of their brains and implementing something that they build by themselves.  This teaches kids how to innovate – which will make them more confident and capable young people.  Isn’t that what every parent wants for their children?  We don’t want robots who regurgitate facts or complain about life – we want kids who solve problems by creating solutions.

And, colleges want these innovative thinkers, too!  They don’t want students who insist on having study guides for tests because they don’t want to learn anything that will not be on the test.  They want students who demonstrate that they can start projects that can solve problems or that they do what they are passionate about. 

If you want your middle or high school student to have a life-changing experience this summer, have them do a project!  Check out ProjectMERIT for ideas.

Learn more about specific classes and the many ways we can make your child's summer the turning point in their academic careers!


How to Ensure a Successful Life and Career By Choosing the Right College

The Criteria for Choosing Colleges has changed; Make sure your child considers these factors!

6 factors to consider when choosing your college

If you have a child who is considering which colleges to apply to or if they’re already seniors and they’re weighing their college options now, consider behavioral economics instead of rankings. Forget about the US News and World Report – they collect data based on admissions yields, retention, grades, test scores, and graduation rates. While this may seem important, they don’t include career satisfaction or how prepared grads are for real life.

The Gallup-Purdue Index has surveyed 60,000 graduates (over 80 years) about their satisfaction with their college experience and preparation for a successful career and a happy life.  It lists 5 essential elements of a “Great Life”: Purpose, Social, Financial, Community and Physical Well Being.

Here is what is key in getting the most out of the college experience.

Instead of looking at rankings, prestige of college, and physical characteristics of the college, successful college grads who have a great life now consider the following elements essential to the college experience:

  1. At least one professor who made them excited about learning
  2. One professor who cared about them as a person
  3. One mentor who encouraged their goals and dreams
  4. Long-term PROJECT (more than a semester to complete)
  5. Internship or job where they applied class learning
  6. Extreme involvement in extracurricular activities and organizations

Sadly, less than 30% of college grads in the US experienced any of the above.  Seriously? Those who had a job or internship in college where they applied what they were learning in the classroom were twice as likely to be engaged at work later in life. 82% of those who experienced all 6 elements above feel that their college experience prepared them well for life after college; and by a strong contrast, only 5% of those who did NOT experience any of the above felt well prepared for life.

The US News and World Report does not consider any of these vital factors into their rankings today. Hmm. Now that Gallup has conducted behavioral economics studies about colleges and universities, we’ll see more information about what really matters when our children go to college.  So as your child starts considering colleges, ask questions about how engaged your child will be with professors, internships and student activities. Seems like these are more important considerations than the old ranking system.



In An Age of Robots, Are We Preparing Our Students For Future Jobs?

With artificial intelligence and robotics capable of calculating and producing products and doing what people have done for centuries, the future of jobs for human beings will be creative, critical and social. So why are classes designed to teach students to act like machines? Regurgitating facts and sitting quietly in rows doesn’t stimulate innovation. As the director at Merit Academy, I have been approached by several Chinese schools (public and private) to help them improve their rote curriculum.  Their students are bright, eager to please, and hardworking but they can’t compete in our entrepreneurial and technological world because they aren’t taught to analyze and think critically. 

The average Chinese class size is 50, but many classes have as many as 80 students. In order to manage a class size that large, teaching has to be a one-way lecture and learning has to be done with worksheets and multiple choice answers. Students don’t learn how to write research papers or literary analyses.  Imagine editing 80 essays for one class? It’s simply impossible for a teacher to manage.

I take pride in watching Merit students thrive.  With one-on-one classes where teachers engage in conversations with students, and students are encouraged to think outside the box and explore concepts and ideas in depth, it is really the ideal environment for developing our future leaders.  I’ve met with the teachers and love to hear their plans for each student they teach. The students ranked their teachers with the highest ratings possible. My favorite role is as their college advisor who guides the students as they launch their projects. Each student finds their passion and sets out to change the world.  Imagine if all schools – Chinese included -- encouraged this type of leadership? We could solve many of the problems we face today. I feel like I’m the luckiest person in the world to have this opportunity. 


TBT: Love it When my Students do Projects that Make a Difference!

Don’t buy antibacterial soap! See what Natalie did to get this movement going!

Stop using and buying antibacterial soap!  Why? Because it doesn’t kill more germs than regular soap.  Yup!  One of my students, Natalie Kassel, set out to get all public schools in Santa Cruz County to switch from using antibacterial soap to regular soap back in 2008.  She created an educational outreach program, worked with the press, and stood on a soap box (no pun intended!) to educate the public.  What’s really exciting today is that the Food and Drug Administration finally – albeit 8 years later – stated that “…they (antibacterial soap) do little or nothing to make soap work any better and the industry has failed to prove they’re safe.”

Triclosan and triclocarban are the ingredients that are used in over 2,000 antibacterial soaps and products.  The FDA is giving soapmakers one year to remove these ingredients from their soaps. YES!  I’m so proud of Natalie for starting a movement here in Santa Cruz way back in 2008. 

The FDA says that washing with plain soap and running water remains one of the most important steps consumers can take to avoid getting sick and to prevent spreading germs to others. And good ol’ Ivory or other soaps are a lot less expensive, too!


Logan Reached His Goal of Diverting 10,000 LBS of CO2 From Entering the Atmosphere!

After starting WHEN, NOT IF in April, Logan hoped to divert 1,000 lbs of CO2 from entering the atmosphere. In 3 months, he reached his goal by getting people to not drive their cars one day per month.  Then, Logan set a lofty goal of 10,000 lbs of CO2 by the year end 9 months in.  That’s when Logan changed his approach and asked people to pledge to reduce their total driving by 5-50% each week.  By getting people to pledge to reduce their driving at the Annual West-End Celebration in Monterey last weekend, he reached his goal in just one day!  Wow!

Join Logan in fighting climate change by pledging to reduce the number of miles you drive each week.  Go to his website at  It’s easy to do because his website does all the calculations for you.  All you need to do is enter how many miles you drive during a typical week and your car’s MPG. Easy peasy.  He’ll add your pledged contribution to see if he can now meet the new goal of 25,000 lbs of CO2 by December 2016. 

Even if you aren’t a philanthropist who can change our energy infrastructure, you CAN pledge to reduce your driving. Your contribution will send a message to everyone that even one person can help us lower our CO2 by 60% in 10 years. Logan thanks you for doing your part!


My Student has a Plan to Prevent Overpopulation: P.O.P.

When you think about it, just about every major problem we’re facing today is caused because we have too many people on this planet.

That’s what Pascal found while she searched for viable projects to do.  After much research and contemplation, Pascal is proposing that every couple has just 2 (or less) kids.  We found it difficult to explain, so she created a cute whiteboard video with great illustrations to show the world why we need to reduce our population of 7 billion people before we hit 10 billion. 

Check out her website and whiteboard video at  Then go to the PROMISE page and pledge to only have 2 (or less) children or share this with friends and family to get the message out. 

It’s really not okay to have more than 2 children because of the devastating impact it will have on our quality of life and the environment. Watch Pascal’s whiteboard video to see why you really can’t afford to have more than 2 kids anyway. 

She’s done a great job with this movement!


Teen Framing a Tiny House

Tiny House TalesBuilding a tiny house this summer has been anything but tiny.  It’s really building all of the aspects of a conventional house, but on a really small scale.  Will completed the subfloor last week, and he is framing the first floor (there’s a loft with a dormer that makes up the second floor) this week.  He wakes up each morning raring to go and has recruited his friends to help during the week and his parents on the weekend.  Being a perfectionist with an engineer’s brain, Will is crafting probably one of the most perfect (square) framings I’ve ever seen. 

Will measures, then measures again to make all of his cuts exactly correct.  He’s learned that wood isn’t straight (not even close!) and even with his father’s weight pulling down on the wood it doesn’t budge.  But that’s when Will pulled out the pipe clamp and used it to move the wood so he could perfectly align his top plates.  Will’s lucky that his friends are fascinated by the project and they’re looking for community service hours, and that his parents are supportive even though they know nothing about construction, building, or tools (his dad is an oral surgeon and his mother is a nurse). 

During this past week, Will learned how to use a chop saw, circular saw, nail gun, and the good ol’ hammer.  He insists on removing any nails that bend and keeping a clean workplace.  Cliff Bixler, Will’s mentor, has given him many pearls of wisdom and helps Will think through each step.  Will is in awe of how Cliff can take a circular saw with one hand while holding a huge sheet of plywood with the other to make a perfect cut.  The plans assume that the builder knows how to use power tools, understands building lingo, and comprehends how to build.  Remember Will is just 17 years old and has never built anything before this. Cliff is an expert builder and a good teacher. 

For you wanna-be-tiny-house builders, Will is creating an instructional video for non-builders.  He’s giving his pearls of wisdom from the perspective of someone who’s never used a hammer before.  By describing how the sound of the air compressor shocked him when he first turned it on to how exciting it was to use the nail gun, he’ll give the novice tips to get them started and through the entire process of building a tiny house.  I’ll keep you posted!



Logan Prevented 1000 POUNDS of Carbon from Entering our Atmosphere!

Thanks to Logan Conover, over 1,000 lbs of carbon did NOT go into the atmosphere over the past 3 months. 

Kudos to Logan! His campaign, WHEN NOT, IF, encourages people to stop driving one day each month to reduce the CO2 that’s released by driving cars. He started with the Santa Cruz County area, and now he’s now reaching out to people across America. 

Please share this so we can help Logan reach his new goal of 10,000 lbs by the end of the year. 

Remember to NOT drive tomorrow, July 23rd, and go to to enter your stats so you can be part of this climate-changing movement!


Best Project Ever: Building a Tiny House!

Tiny HouseEverybody is abuzz about tiny houses, and one of my students, Will Eklund, is building a tiny house this summer! 

He laid out building plans for 4 months using a CAD program where he learned all about building codes and drafting.  After much research about building permits and restrictions for tiny houses, he decided to build a Tumbleweed tiny house because it’s built on a trailer and doesn’t require cumbersome permits.  After all, it’s a moving house and not a stationary building.  The Tumbleweed tiny houses meet recreational vehicle (RV) requirements and they offer building plans.

Will spent about 3 months putting together his budget.  Using the materials lists that came with the plans, he meticulously organized all of the materials he would need for this project.  This was a huge learning curve for Will because he had no experience doing any construction or building of any kind. He is a math kid who loves problem solving and engineering. The idea of building a tiny house after learning how to make building plans was just the natural progression.  He was clueless about the many acronyms and slang used in the building industry.  Who knew that “RO” meant rough opening?

Will and I got educated by going to San Lorenzo Lumber, Riverside Lighting, and other stores to see what the many materials on the list looked like.  Mario, George, and Craig at San Lorenzo Lumber showed us what we needed and educated us. Brian at Riverside Lighting showed us all of our options for our electrical and propane materials.  Seeing the building materials helped Will understand how it was going to come together.  We also watched a 6-hour “how to” video on building tiny houses.  Will ordered all of the materials 2 weeks ago, and with each step he was more and more psyched!

Finally, Will received a custom-built trailer made just for the Tumbleweed tiny house last week.  He recruited several friends to help him install the floor insulation and subfloor.  We recruited my good friend Cliff Bixler to mentor Will.  They plan to frame the tiny house this week.  I’m secretly really envious of Will because this has been MY DREAM forever! 

Stay tuned to see Will build his tiny house!

Tiny House Trailer


Summer's a Great Time to Foster GRIT!

GRITQuite the opposite of America’s helicopter parenting, psychologist Angela Duckworth argues that a combination of passion and perseverance is the key predictor of success.  In her New York Times best-selling book, “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance,” she suggests that kids do one “hard thing” each summer.  This, of course, is just another way of saying “practice makes perfect” and “if you don’t shoot, you don’t score”. 

Kids today – more than ever – need to put down their phones and games, and do something real to make the world a better place.  While this might sound daunting, it is exactly what they need so they become an active part of their communities. 

By working hard at something – anything – they get the sense that they are contributing in a meaningful way. This engagement keeps them out of trouble and sharpens their minds. 

I wrote the book, “Beat the College Admissions Game: Do a Project!” to help kids start their very own projects like Duckworth recommends above. 

Give each of your children the opportunity to expand their minds by doing a project this summer.  Besides, it’ll also help them get into college, and earn scholarship dollars!