Monday, June 11, 2012

Why Students are taking stimulants for the SATs

Adderall: prescribed for ADHD- used for test-taking focus

I have seen plenty of high school students who go to extremes to outscore their competition, but this practice is very disturbing. College admissions are more selective than ever, and these young students want their applications to stand out. I recently read a reprinted article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, written by Alan Schwarz of the New York Times, about students taking stimulants such as Adderall and Ritalin so they can be hyper-alert and do well on tests:

The article states, "The number of prescriptions for ADHD medications dispensed for young people ages 10 to 19 has risen 26 percent since 2007, to almost 21 million yearly..."  Students hoping to rise above the rest are buying these drugs from their peers. They take drug Adderall, Vyvanse, Ritalin and Focalin so they can have focus and energy for all night homework binges and long, tough exams.

Obviously these kids want to get into the best colleges. They are driven and will sacrifice the side-effects of these drugs (depression, mood swings, heart irregularities and acute exhaustion) just to get that edge on the competition. I know the demographic of these high achievers. Some have more pressure than their young minds and bodies can even take. They find it too hard to manage and want an easy way to keep up.

I urge parents to keep a close watch on what goes on with their high school student. Be aware of what their friends are up to. Ask questions. Make sure they know taking amphetamines and methylphenidates are controlled substances and those who sell them can be prosecuted as felons. Make sure they know that using these drugs is unethical. Simply put: It's cheating.

Then, know that there are other ways to stand out to college admissions. Check out how these high schoolers got into the Ivy Leagues and other dream colleges in the Merit project gallery. In my book, Beat the College Admissions Game: Do a Project, I write just how to be unlike the others. It's not as complicated as these young people think. I really hope they can try the holistic approach to standing out to colleges. Taking medications for energy and focus only teaches high school students the easy way to success. I think that we owe it to our children to teach them some skills they can use their whole lifetime.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Billionaire Pays Kids to Drop Out of College and Pursue Projects

Billionaire investor Peter Thiel, otherwise known as the man who co-founded PayPal, has caused quite the controversy by awarding grants of $100,000 to promising youth hopefuls by encouraging them to drop out of college and pursue entrepreneurial projects. Thiel's College Drop out Plan is something he started because many bright young students with really great ideas and aspirations who may not fall into obvious categories, fail in college because, for whatever reason, these students haven't gotten the essential guidance they needed to identify their passions early on. Thiel finds it insulting that the trillions of dollars in student debt hasn't helped these kids find jobs, and he says some of the bright ones would be better off opting out of the whole university system altogether. You can see why Thiel is raising some blood pressures. This is an interesting conversation, but I believe we need to change the timeline when we start to encourage our youth to pursue individual projects. Thiel is bold to give these youth a kick start on their dreams, however, I don't believe that encouraging kids to drop out of college sends a good message. Couldn't he have award the money to begin a nationwide high school project program?

In isolated cases, I agree with Thiel-- some of these young minds are discouraged in a streamlined environment. Look at Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. College was not exactly doing it for them. And with $100,000 a youth with some drive can get going on a great idea without having to punch their time card in college. But I say- back up a little. On second thought, back up much more... to high school. There lies the answer. This is where incentive should be born.

Our student's unique qualities need to be honed much sooner. We have misguided youth with great grades and test scores who go to great colleges, yet they don't spend the time learning about themselves and seeing what makes them tick. Then they go to college still not knowing what career interests them, and they often major in areas that don't lead to jobs.

Identifying career interests must be born in high school-- then this whole mess of brilliant square pegs, floundering in college with student debt and broken spirits, can be avoided almost entirely.

If students are given the right kind of guidance- as in- a mentor or counselor who helps identify their area of interest early on, and the students start their projects freshman year in high school, they will take on the entrepreneurial spirit while advocating and marketing their ideas. By the time they reach college (and often times the project has helped them into the right college), they will be much more focused on their personal goals. They have already learned about themselves and decided what works best for them. They will be in the right major in college- one that fits their unique vision for the world. They may take on other projects or start businesses within their interests. This will, in turn, land them their first job. Already in full force, these young entrepreneurs will be so engaged in their career interests, that they will be more than ready for the real world after graduation. Some will go to grad school, and some will be already making money to pay off their college loans.

Our high school students have a challenge at their raw, influential age. They must be able to keep their chins level enough to be able to look straight into a mirror while their body jumps, swerves and ducks over and under a social and economical obstacle course of this turbulent time.

And they are the ones with the energy to do it.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Great Poem that supports "Do a Project!"

Portrait of the Artist as a Prematurely Old Man
By Ogden Nash

YouTube Video

It is common knowledge to every schoolboy and even every Bachelor of Arts,
That all sin is divided into two parts.
One kind of sin is called a sin of commission, and that is very important,
And it is what you are doing when you are doing something you ortant,
And the other kind of sin is just the opposite and is called a sin of omission
and is equally bad in the eyes of all right-thinking people, from
Billy Sunday to Buddha,
And it consists of not having done something you shuddha.
I might as well give you my opinion of these two kinds of sin as long as,
in a way, against each other we are pitting them,
And that is, don’t bother your head about the sins of commission because
however sinful, they must at least be fun or else you wouldn’t be
committing them.
It is the sin of omission, the second kind of sin,
That lays eggs under your skin.
The way you really get painfully bitten
Is by the insurance you haven’t taken out and the checks you haven’t added up
the stubs of and the appointments you haven’t kept and the bills you
haven’t paid and the letters you haven’t written.
Also, about sins of omission there is one particularly painful lack of beauty,
Namely, it isn’t as though it had been a riotous red-letter day or night every
time you neglected to do your duty;
You didn’t get a wicked forbidden thrill
Every time you let a policy lapse or forget to pay a bill;
You didn’t slap the lads in the tavern on the back and loudly cry Whee,
Let’s all fail to write just one more letter before we go home, and this round
of unwritten letters is on me.
No, you never get any fun
Out of things you haven’t done,
But they are the things that I do not like to be amid,
Because the suitable things you didn’t do give you a lot more trouble than the
unsuitable things you did.
The moral is that it is probably better not to sin at all, but if some kind of
sin you must be pursuing,
Well, remember to do it by doing rather than by not doing.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Summer School Keeps the Momentum Going

Summer will be here soon, and the educational momentum your child has been gaining doesn’t need to slow down for summer. We think you should use the summer break to give your child a head start, with one-on-one instruction and tutoring in your own home.

Imagine you have a steady regimen of jogging three miles a day, five days a week. You are in amazing shape. You eat well and have plenty of energy when the weekend comes along. Then you decide to take three months off jogging. Three months later, your legs and arms have lost their tone. You are out of breath at the top of the stairs and you have gained some fat around your midsection.

This is what happens to your child’s brain in the summer months. By the time they are back in school in September, it takes until October to get to the same fitness level as before the break. Then the holidays come and some more brain workouts are sacrificed, and your child really doesn’t get back into the momentum again until January.

Merit Academy has always recommended summer school. The reason for the three month summer “break” is outdated and extremely difficult, especially for the typical two-income working parents who need to occupy their children all summer. The American school calendar was originally designed to accommodate our agricultural society back in the 1700's. At that time, farming families depended on the summer harvest and consequently needed their children to participate in the crop and livestock workload.

Nowadays most children are not helping with the farm. Twelve weeks off from school has become a financial burden as parents scramble to find all-day camps and summer programs that act as babysitters for their young ones.

As well as being outdated, public summer school programs are mostly fluff instead of individual. Some parents with the option of “staying home” opt out of summer school completely, choosing to take small trips to the grandparents, vacations and pool days.

While taking a break and relaxing after 180 days of school can be rejuvenating, any more than four weeks off begins to have a negative effect on memory and retention.

According to, children lose ground in math and reading, which unfortunately means that upon returning to school in the Fall, the teacher spends the first four to six weeks reviewing last year’s material. Students also fall out of sync with other aspects of learning such as time management and studying. Most students admit that they get bored during the summer if they don't have plans to participate in programs or work.

Students who spend their summers doing constructive activities start school in the fall ready to learn. This is why we highly recommend it.

Merit is not your typical summer school program. The Merit Summer Enrichment Program works to pinpointing what your child needs to know for the upcoming school year, and matching him or her with a tutor to fill in the educational gaps. We need to be sure your child loves reading and understand math facts before going on to the next grade. We start lessons on day one. Your child can prepare for school and college with one-on-one skill building classes.

We offer:

  1. Math Skill Building
  2. Reading Comprehension
  3. Literature Appreciation
  4. Professional Internship Program
  5. Writer’s Intensive Guidance
  6. Research Paper Workshop
  7. College Application Essay Workshop
  8. SAT I Prep
  9. SAT II Intensive Workshop
  10. College Advisory
  11. The Personal Project

The program is something to look into if you are serious about keeping the educational momentum going. In the long run, your child will be better for it. Have a look at our Summer Enrichment Program.

***Fully Accredited by the Schools Commission of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges

***Call 831-462-5655 for more information/ Ask about our custom courses!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Let's Not Blame the World...Let's tap into one of our best resources: TEENS

"We bet on American ingenuity," Obama said when he addressed the nation in the State of the Union Address last month. "We bet on American workers."

He was talking about decreasing unemployment by creating more jobs in American manufacturing and getting people trained in areas like science and technology (in which, Obama said, there are twice as many openings as positions) so that people can go directly into jobs. Unemployment magically solved? I really wish.

Obama is betting on select groups of Americans already in the work force to be trained quickly so they can be innovative and resourceful in areas like cancer research and clean energy, but I wonder if we can start younger. We need to prep our teens in advocacy.

Every day I work with young people as a college advisor and director of Merit Academy, an alternative high school, that serves as a "think tank" for emerging minds. I know well the next generation of workers Obama is betting on. This group is a force to be reckoned with. We have a line of young thinkers ready to take on their communities and the world at large. Not every teen is wired to design a car engine that runs on hydrogen, but I have teens who have drafted artful petitions for peace and created their own community-minded businesses and donation drives for causes that matter to them. Every young person has a gift to offer this world.

Can you imagine if every teen was required to come up with their own project before graduation from high school? In the State of the Union Address, Obama was talking about making it a state requirement that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn 18. Grad students must complete a thesis. Medical students must complete a rotation. How about giving high school students something bigger to do?

While they are tapping their pencils in their desks for four years, shouldn't these students be making the most of their time? The teen years are a ripe and passionate time. There is no need for our youth to sit on the couch and play video games all day. I encourage all my college-bound students to start a project by the end of 8th grade, just before they enter high school, to continue until the end of high school. I show them a list of community projects that they can choose from. They may also come up with their own vision. I find out what they are all about- what interests them- what concerns them about the world.

They are asked to answer some questions such as:

What political issues upset you?
What social issues would you like to change?
What research needs to be conducted for public education?

Then there are timelines, tasks, and mentors set up to help them develop their project.

In the meantime, a teenager becomes a citizen. A young person becomes a caring community member. A kid on the couch becomes a "doer."

The kids at Merit are required to "Do a Project." But we need more of these young people. We need to change the way high schools educate our promising youth.

My students have started non-profits and businesses, published articles and books on subjects they believe in, produced films, conducted experiments. I have one student who spend her high school project creating Kids for Hydrogen, demanding an environmentally-friendly fuel. These are not students who sit around and blame the world for our problems. The reason for this is because they were given the responsibility to think for themselves and the right tools to keep good study habits. With the right mentorship, our youth will be the advocates for change.

Obama said:

...with only 2 percent of the world’s oil reserves, oil isn’t enough. This country needs an all-out, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy. A strategy that’s cleaner, cheaper, and full of new jobs.

I have a student who is upset about Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, who is spreading lies and disregarding advisors in his own department who say hydrogen fuel stations are ready to be marketed, and has cut almost half the federal funding for hydrogen-powered cars.

A major car manufacturer is calling me to tell me they want one of my students to get out there and rally for the hydrogen car. If my student keeps going on her promise to make the world a better place, her efforts will be the kind of resourcefulness Obama is calling for.

In my book, Beat the College Admissions Game: Do a Project! I outline viable ideas for projects with time lines and budgets. Most importantly, I give advice on how to empower your teen to do this project himself.

The echo of John F. Kennedy's 1961 Inaugural Address seems to be the soundtrack of my train of thought. JFK is said to be one of Obama's presidential influences. Remember JFK's famous words:

And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your Country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.

My fellow citizen of the world, ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

What if JFK were to be addressing your teenager sitting on the couch? Yes, the teen over there- texting his friends about how annoying it is that he has a paper to turn in tomorrow but wants to go see a movie with his friends.

I am involved in a movement that gives no power to the "Blame Game." It rallies the two million teens entering high school as the "American Ingenuity" that our president is hoping to dredge up. They are the untapped resource Obama and the Congress has been hoping for. These young people are at the very age when they have developed a take on the world. Do they like the laws in place? Do they agree with the money spent on war and their peers going to fight and die in other countries? Do they see our attitudes as just and fair? Do they wish things were different? Do they feel a part of the community?

I believe in your teen's potential to change the world. Now is the time to get him going on something. He may be just entering high school or perhaps a sophomore or junior, and he is going to need something to make his college application stand out from the 80 percent of high school students applying for colleges. It is the classic win-win. This is precisely the kind of motivation our young people need and they will prove to be great- if we only give them a chance.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Faulty Infrastructure: How education can help rebuild our economy

The era of the Great Depression is one of the most memorable within our nation’s young history. Very few were immune to its wrath. American citizens faced inconceivable job loss, homelessness, and hunger while the government frantically worked to solve the issues that created the downward spiral. The same could be said about today’s economy. As parents and educators, there are certain things we can do to help our children survive and thrive during these difficult times.

This week, President Obama gave a speech that focused on one solution to the unemployment epidemic: rebuilding faulty infrastructure across the U.S. that would not only beautify and repair our nation, but would also provide jobs for those out of work. Sound familiar? It should. In 1934 President Roosevelt created the Civil Works Administration, part of the New Deal, which provided jobs to over four million men and women across the nation. The newly employed wholeheartedly embraced their jobs as they fixed damaged roads, faulty bridges, parks, playgrounds and city buildings. Roosevelt’s goal was to rebuild the nation, lift broken spirits, and employ the unemployed. The parallel between Obama’s speech this week, and Roosevelt’s CWA is clear.

Of course, there are skeptics who claim that Obama is simply utilizing scare tactics to help his platform, but regardless of what side of the political fence you stand on, we can all agree on one thing: we need to decrease the unemployment rate and fast. So, what can we do to solve the unemployment problem?

Obama is on the right track with this idea. The CWA provided over four million jobs in the 1930’s, and a similar plan could very well work in today’s failing economy. Can you imagine creating four million jobs to our unemployed, virtually overnight? I will concede that while more jobs would be fantastic, it would only solve this problem temporarily. What if we could employ our youth in drumming up long-term solutions? What if we could empower them and entrust them with the ability to contribute to a flourishing economy? We most certainly can! Not only will we provide our youth with the confidence they are going to need in their adult lives, but our teens will be replacing our government officials faster than we can say “recession;” so why not educate them on the crises and allow them to contribute their ideas and solutions?

As a parent, educator, and founder of one of the most successful private schools in the nation, each of my students are required to “Do a Project” as a prerequisite to graduation. Each student chooses a project that is near and dear to them. Their projects revolve around an idea they are passionate about, and they work on it for the entirety of their high school career. Just to provide you with a few examples of the amazing projects completed by my students, some of the projects included creating the hydrogen fuel cell, the Pharmaceutical Disposal Proposal, CPR for Life, and the creation of the Progressive Brake Light System; only to name a few. These programs have reached countless people and changed society for the better, all while getting them into their top-choice colleges. The Project has the potential to change the world, and students reap the benefits when they receive letters of acceptance into the top colleges they applied for, (not to mention the satisfaction they receive knowing they have positively contributed to the society, and the knowledge that one person really does have the ability to make a difference).

In today’s economic climate, the population seems to glare at our elected politicians with a scrutinizing eye. We wonder why they have failed us, and what they will do to fix it. Sure, they should take the reins and help to solve problems like unemployment and the budget deficit; but by the same token, we should remember that old adage: if you want something done right, do it yourself. So, what are you doing to help solve our nation’s problems, because surely badmouthing our politicians isn’t going to fix a darn thing.

Talk with your family. Include your children in the conversation. If you could describe your perfect world, what would it be like, and how would you achieve it? Choose one of your ideas and put it into action. We can all make a difference, and getting our teens to do a project is a smart way to make it happen.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Need a required course to graduate? Don’t worry: there are many alternatives.

It can be challenging to enroll in all of the classes you need each semester, especially with the recent budget cuts. With fewer courses available and rising enrollment rates, completing the classes you need for your major can be a challenge. Not only do you run the risk of having to take classes you don’t want or even need, but more importantly, you may not graduate in time. For you, this means an extra year at school (and surely you’d rather be traveling or beginning your career instead). For your parents, that extra year could cost them an extra $10,000 to $50,000 depending on where you attend school. After sitting on wait lists and standing behind long lines of students trying to get into the same class, you realize you just aren’t getting in-- so now what? You have a couple of options.

First, make an appointment with your college advisor. In some cases, they may find a class you have already completed, and use it to fulfill two requirements. They can also help you select courses for the future that will fulfill multiple requirements. I once worked with a student that took an upper-division class as a freshman—not only did she pass it, but she got an A. The advisor worked with her to make that class count for two graduation requirements rather than one. Your advisor wants you to succeed just as much as you do.

Second, layout your course plan for the entire four years. By understanding what general-ed classes you need to take and selecting your major and elective courses ahead of time, you'll be able to take full advantage of your college's opportunities. When it comes time to enroll in classes, you won't be frantically combing through the Schedule of Classes to decide what classes you need and what your schedule will look like.

Third, if you know that one of the classes on your list is going to be difficult to get into, meet with the professor ahead of time to discuss why you need and want to take their class. By making a connection with the professors, they will be more inclined to select you off the wait list when the time comes for registration. If a professor wants to add you to their course, they can and will.

Another option, if all else fails, is to take the class at a different college. Oftentimes a nearby community college will offer a course that satisfies your requirements. Most universities allow up to sixty community college units towards your degree. You can also take an online course, if your college accepts them. More colleges are accepting the fact that their students may need to take additional courses off campus in order to graduate on time. And don’t worry, there is no mention of it on your diploma.

Getting into the classes you need can be extremely stressful. Waiting an extra day, or even an extra hour past your enrollment time could mean the difference between a timely graduation and another year. Courses fill up in a matter of minutes, so be sure you know your enrollment time and set your alarm so you don't miss it!. If you are on top of it all, and you still can’t get in, don’t fear--there are usually other options out there. Last, and most importantly: don’t forget to carefully layout your entire four-year plan so selecting courses at your enrollment time slot is easy and not burdened with choosing classes.

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