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.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Let them have their cake and eat it too!

Your children don't need to sacrifice their joyful youth in order to have an exceptional academic career. . . this is the story of how my girls pursued their passions and interests, and still graduated from Stanford and Claremont McKenna College.

I am an American Tiger Mom. What kind of parent are you? Have you wondered if your friends parent the same way in the privacy of their own homes as they do in front of others? Perhaps you appear calm, collect and in control while others are watching, but behind closed doors, your kids rule the roost. Speaking for myself, an American Tiger Mom’s parenting style is unwavering whether there is an audience or not. So again I ask: what kind of parent are you… and why? Is your method of parenting going to result in your children’s success or demise?

New parents don’t receive a how-to book on the proper way to raise our children; so we utilize every resource we can to help us raise our children into happy, healthy, and independent adults. We reference our own childhoods, examining what our parents did that worked and what didn’t. We look to other parents to admire and emulate their successes, while scrutinizing other’s blatant failures. Much of parenting is trial and error, but it all comes down to one thing: we don’t want to lose our kids. As parents leave the hospital with their precious newborns in tow, and without that ever-desired parenting manual, they can find solace in knowing that there are some tried and true ways of successful childrearing. Having raised two daughters who are well-rounded, happy and extraordinarily successful, I want to share with others what has worked for me as an American Tiger Mom.

I know that my children are intelligent, skillful leaders. I made it a priority to provide them with a strong academic foundation so that they would be able to choose the best-fit college and career, enabling them to lead happy and fulfilled lives. An American Tiger Mom exposes her children to music, dance and the arts so they may lead enriched lives, complete with a strong academic foundation. While some may scrutinize my way of parenting as overly-strict, I am quick to remind them that I never deprived my children of their social lives or striped them of their personal identities. They are confident young ladies with their own interests; I am only here to support and reassure them that they are fully capable of accomplishing anything.

In the parenting world, we are labeled and categorized based on our parenting styles. The most widely used titles include the Tiger Mom, the Helicopter Mom, and more recently, the American Tiger Mom. Each subcategory of mother is quite different, although we do have something in common: we all think we are doing what is in our child’s best interest. I can assure you however, that each of these parenting styles is very different.

The Tiger Mom has been called the dictator of all mothers. You may recall Amy Chua’s book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” where she boasted that her children were never allowed to attend a sleepover, have a play date, watch television, play video games, or choose their own extracurricular activities. They were forced to master the piano and violin, and were strictly forbidden to explore other musical interests. She proudly admits to calling one of her daughters “garbage.” Convinced that her kids are successful because of her authoritarian parenting style, she is eager to claim that all Tiger Mom’s are superior. Where then do we see the individuality and leadership in these children? The Tiger Mom is afraid that her children are incapable of finding the correct passion, so she makes executive decisions and drills them relentlessly until they have become the people she wants them to be. While this may work in some societies, it denies the children the opportunity to explore their interests and to experience their youth like their peers in our American culture.

Another infamous type of parent is the Helicopter Mom. Simply put, she hovers. She is always one step ahead of her children so that she can fight their battles. She prevents any possible failures, and will even boast that her child got an A on their last science project…. Because she did it herself! The Helicopter Mom often does her child’s homework so that they are not inconvenienced by doing “busy work.” By doing their schoolwork for them, Helicopter Moms are sending a message to their children that they don’t believe they can succeed on their own. There was an incisive article published by CNN recently titled “What teachers really want to tell parents.” The article aptly discussed the many ways that helicopter parents are helping their children fail in school (and in life for that matter) because of their parenting style. In addition to doing everything for their child short of eating their meals for them, the Helicopter Mom is adamant that her kids are signed up for as many activities as possible. Keeping up with the Jones’ is extremely important to her, and she gets an immense amount of satisfaction from being able to say that she spent her entire day driving her kids to every paid activity that her community offers. Even if their actions are genuinely well-intended, Helicopter parents are setting their kids up for a lifetime of failure.

Surely if you are reading this article, parenting is an important aspect of your life. As an American Tiger Mom, an educator, and the founder of one of the nation’s most elite private schools, I can honestly say that as I reflect on the way my daughters were raised, I am proud! My girls have made inspiring contributions to society, have graduated from Stanford University and Claremont McKenna College; and they did not have to sacrifice their childhoods to do so.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Sending kids off to college during a recession

I read an article at that explored the correlation between home values and college attendance; and once again, I began to think about families who are struggling in this recession and how they will provide their children with a higher education.

The article, "Want to go to college, kid? Check the home value," took into account statistics from the 2000's when the housing market was thriving, compared to the deteriorating housing market of our current decade. The article suggests that when home values are up, so are college attendance rates; but I am not convinced this is accurate. I would suggest rather, that parents encourage their children to complete their general education requirements at the local community college prior to receiving their diploma at a four-year college. Tuition, fees and living expenses for a California junior college students are currently estimated to be around half of what it costs to attend a University in California. Those costs can be cut even more substantially if the student lives at home during their time at community college. The numbers speak for themselves: California Community College per year is $5,650, whereas the yearly cost of sending your child to a UC is $28,600. Quite a difference! The best part about this option...once your child transfers to a four-year school and graduates, there is no mention of the junior college on their diploma. So, even if home values are plummeting, parents still want to see their kids get their education, and this is a reasonable avenue that many people are taking advantage of.

With that said, I have seen the junior college option both succeed and fail. The deciding factor: whether the student plans out their four year college plan. Merit offers four-year plan to help the student understand their options before before they head off to college. With the parents' support, the student is more likely to stay on course and complete their degree in 4 years than if they just start taking classes and make course decisions based on availability and personal whims. The student is also more inclined to sign up for classes at the first opportunity because they won't have to scramble to see which classes they need to take. What many students don't realize is that every minute they delay registration puts them at risk for falling behind-- if they wait to sign up for a class, they need it may become unavailable, thereby postponing their transfer. Due to recent budget cuts, many of the coveted classes are more difficult to get into; and if they can't take the classes they need according to the plan that was laid out, this could add a year to their college stay. What does that mean for the person footing the bill? Anywhere between $10,000 and $55,000 per year! If they cannot get into a class, I suggest taking an online course, or even attending a nearby community college to be sure they stay on schedule. For the critical courses, the student should contact the professor directly to ensure enrollment.

Lastly, it is important to acknowledge that sending your child off to college can be a risky investment. There are some kids who don't plan on taking college seriously. They aren't ready for the real world and look at college as a great opportunity to party with friends for four years, and this will most certainly put your finances at risk. Rob and I safeguarded our pocketbooks, while simultaneously encouraging our daughters' academic success by creating "contracts" that showed them that we would happily support them if they got good grades, but that they were on their own if their grades dropped.

The fact is, we are all living in a recession right now; to what degree depends on the individual family. Even if the value of your home has fallen, there are realistic options when it comes to sending your child off to college. Their education doesn't have to break the bank, and your financial woes don't have to affect their future.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Are your children empowered with the necessary study and time-management skills needed for academic success?

As a new academic year begins, it is crucial that students possess the ever-important skills of studying and time management. These two skills are inseparable from each other, and once mastered, they are the key to educational achievement.

The same poor excuses for bad grades have been used for generations: “I am a bad test taker,” “My teacher didn't give us a study guide,” “I have a bad short-term memory.” Surely you have heard someone use at least one, if not all of these explanations for bad performance in school; and maybe you’ve even used them yourself. These excuses are nothing more than that -- excuses. Many students claim that they learn best by reviewing their notes the night before the test and that when they study earlier in the week, they just forget everything by the time they take their tests. These students will also tell you that they can't remember the information that they aced for the test the following week, which means that it was not commited to long-term memory. Without learning the material well enough to understand it, they will inevitably do poorly on the final exam or any tests that build on concepts learned the previous week. With the right study skills, however, anyone can excel in each of their classes, even if they do prefer English over math.

Let’s say for instance that you know your high-school student has a test coming up at the end of the week. You ask them if they are studying each day, and they reply with an honest “yes.” To them, looking through their notes or completing a homework study guide is studying. When they get C's on their tests, they blame the grade on "difficult tests" but they don't realize that what really happened was that they didn't understand the material on the test because they weren't prepared. Simply flipping through flashcards and reviewing a study guide doesn’t cut it. Your student needs to understand all of the material. It's not just memorizing facts but having a comprehensive understanding. If your son or daughter is able to have a discussion on the subject and capable of arguing how they came to their conclusion, they are on the right track. As an educator, I have heard every excuse in the book when a student does poorly; and alternatively, I have seen students ace their tests when they prepare by studying the way I advise them to.

First and foremost, effective study skills revolve around proper time management. The only way for your child to finish all of their tasks and to get good grades is to prioritize and manage their time, this way, nothing important is forgotten. My students use their planners to abide by a “four-day plan” when preparing for a test. If your child has a vocabulary test on Friday, then beginning on Monday, the student makes flash cards that will help them study throughout the week. Writing the information down is an act of effective studying in and of itself. On Tuesday, they use their flashcards to write out sentences for each word. Again, reading and re-writing help to cement the information into long-term memory. Wednesday they take a practice test. When they are done, they will see what areas need extra work prior to test date. By Thursday, they should have the majority of their practice tests mastered. If they are still having difficulty in any specific area, they still have a day to meet with their teacher. Not only will this help the student to conceptualize all of the information, but it will also show the teacher that your child is dedicated to learning and has the desire to succeed. This is something that will not be forgotten as they are grading tests! Having a planner is crucial to this process because they block off chunks of time to study each day, and your student can see how this time fits into their daily schedule. Accounting for studying, socializing, eating and even a nap will ensure that everything gets done in a timely manner.

The four-day plan is not limited to test taking. These study skills can be utilized for learning concepts, writing papers, or doing projects throughout the year, and not just in crunch time. The four-day plan should be repeated weekly, and when done so properly, test time is much easier because your student already knows, understands, and owns the information they will be tested on. Students at Merit abide by the following weekly schedule: Monday includes reading, highlighting and outlining materials. The student re-writes the information in a way that makes sense to them. On Tuesday, they are encouraged to seek out multiple perspectives on the subject. For instance, if they have been studying the hydrogen fuel cell in class, they should go online and/or to the library and read additional materials. This allows them to get a more complete understanding on the subject, and not just a one-dimensional perspective. On Wednesday the student re-writes all of the information they have collected through reading, lectures, secondary sources, etc. Compiling all of the information will help them to put all of the pieces of the puzzle together- it will all start clicking. By Thursday, the student should be able to have a discussion on the subject. If they were to be challenged on the information they are presenting, they should be able to argue their point; understanding that there are no black and white answers. If they are able to do this, they have a full conceptual understanding of the material, and not just what is required for answering specific questions. Finally, on Friday, I have them do their “All’s.” “All’s” combine all of the information they have studied this week, with all of the information they have learned from the beginning of the school year. By doing their “All’s” they truly understand what they are learning, while simultaneously preparing for comprehensive final exams at the end of the semester.

If this seems like a rigorous study process, that’s because it is. I can assure you though, that it is through this method alone that I have seen my students succeed. Like everything in life, you get out of it what you put into it. If you do the work now, you will undoubtedly see the returns later. These study skills will be invaluable when your child enters college, because they will truly have the “right” kind of study skills they need for a more challenging and rigorous education.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

5 Tips to Graduating in the Top 5% of your College Class!

College Students: Five Simple Ways to Graduate in the Top 5% of Your Class

So, you’ve been accepted into a great college and you are ready to embark on a new and exciting phase of your life. If you are a freshman, your mind is likely spinning with thoughts of dorm-life, balancing your social life with your education, and which classes to take. It’s an exciting time, and the possibilities are endless! If you are entering your sophomore year in college, your nerves have probably calmed down from this time last year, and you know what to expect. A common denominator amongst all grade levels is this: why are you really here and how can you make the very best of it?

You are here for all of it: the education, the friendships, the extracurricular activities, and the training for your adult life. Now, I want you to picture something; graduation day. It may seem far off, but in reality, it will be here before you know it. Imagine yourself in that cap and gown, your family is sitting in the crowd, and the College Provost announces your name as you cross the podium to receive your diploma. In this single moment, all of your hard work and perseverance is tangible and has paid off. What could be better than that? It may sound silly, but now imagine yourself wearing the tassels that indicate that you’ve graduated in the top of your class; and instead of simply hearing your name called along with the other hundreds of students they announce that you have graduated with University Honors and Magna Cum Laude Honors. What an amazing feeling! Believe me when I tell you, it is completely and utterly attainable!

I urge you to strive for this goal, and I will give you five tips that will help you accomplish this feat. Not only will it give you an incredible sense of accomplishment that you will carry with you throughout your life, but it will also help you tremendously as you begin looking for a career, applying for jobs, and if you are considering Graduate School. These Honors carry more weight than you can imagine.

Tip #1: BE PRESENT. Attend class each and every day. There will be days when you are too sick to get out of bed, or you have an appointment you cannot miss; so reserve your excused absences for these occasions, rather than skipping class to sleep in or for a lunch date. Sit near the front. Your professor will recognize your face, and if you sit near the front of the class you will be less likely to daze off, doodle, or check your Facebook account on your laptop. Actively listen to the lecture and participate in discussions. Your professor is not there to hear their own voice- they are truly there because they want to teach you something; and hey, you are paying big bucks to be there…get your money’s worth! All of these actions will get you noticed by your professors and T.A.’s, and when it comes time for them to grade you and write evaluations, they will absolutely remember that you were an active participant in class. Being present could mean the difference between a C and an A.

Tip #2: ATTEND OFFICE HOURS. In addition to attending lecture and sections, your professors will have weekly office hours. As they will tell you, it is rare that students utilize this time. They set aside these hours so that you can come ask questions, discuss materials and ideas, and get input on future assignments. Your professors will not proofread your papers for you, but if you attend office hours and talk to them about your assignment, they will certainly tell you if you are headed in the right direction or not. Even if you don’t nail your assignment, they will remember that you made the effort by coming to office hours. And once again, come grading time, this will most definitely be something they remember and will take account of in your grade. This is a skill set that you will utilize throughout your life, and will prepare you for those quarterly meetings with your boss and/or your employees.

Your advisor is there to help you and will see things that the untrained eye (yours) will not. She or he can tell you if you are on the right track, have missed an important required course, and may even suggest classes that will complete more than one requirement. Your advisor is your advocate and they want nothing more than for you to succeed. Students that utilize their college advisors have a much higher rate of success; either graduating within four years, and sometimes even sooner.

Tip #4: MANAGE YOUR TIME WISELY. As you begin attending lectures you will immediately discover that you have tons of work to do in a short period of time. How will you get those three books read, two papers written, attend all of your classes, and make it to office hours this week without stressing yourself out completely? Without question, you are going to need to manage your time. Get a planner. Figure out exactly when you need to be reading, writing, attending a study group, eating, sleeping, etc. You should have each day mapped out by the hour. It may sound tedious, but I promise you, if you abide by this very simple plan, you can rest easy knowing that you’ve completed your work on time and to the best of your ability. You will never have to walk into class and realize you’ve forgotten there was a paper due that day, or that you missed an important quiz. Prioritizing your work and time will make you an excellent student and will set you apart from the rest of your peers.

Tip #5: NEVER FORGET: YOUR EDUCATION IS A GIFT. It doesn’t matter whether someone is paying your tuition for you, or you are financing college on your own; your education is a gift that no one can ever take away from you. The old adage, “Knowledge is Power,” is absolutely true. Not only will it give you irreplaceable self-confidence that you can carry with you throughout your life, but it will improve your quality of life as well. Your education will assist you in finding a career you enjoy going to each day. College graduates earn a minimum of 50% more in salary than non-college graduates, and that is a low estimate. A college education is a gift that never stops giving.

If you have taken the time to read this article, I am certain that you are capable of graduating in the top 5% of your class. These five tips, when followed, will ensure your success in your college career. Challenge yourself. Have confidence in your abilities. Set goals and make them happen. Doing well in college comes down to the strength of your drive and motivation.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

How to be an American Tiger Mom

Only extremely gifted children are capable of thriving regardless of their circumstances. For the rest of us, raising children to realize their full potential requires 18 years of proactive, creative, and dedicated parenting. My daughters were no exception. My husband and I are normal people of average intelligence, so Nicole and Jaclyn certainly didn’t get any super genes from us. How, then, did they get accepted to the most selective colleges in the country? Personal drive and tenacity.

Instilling these values within my girls has been my life’s work, and it wasn’t always easy. Because we were raising them in sunny, laid-back Santa Cruz, where terms like "First Place" are frowned upon, I found it especially difficult to ensure that they received a strong academic foundation. But I wanted to give my daughters the best. Despite the dispiriting state of education here in America, I’m not the type to sit back and blame others for our system’s lousy outcomes, nor was I about to let my daughters become just another statistic.

When Nicole was two, I decided to start a preschool program for her, which got a lot of raised eyebrows from other moms. At a time when other children were only encouraged to play, with the understanding that learning to read was something that would happen once they got to kindergarten, I found that both Nicole and Jaclyn enjoyed playing educational games that taught reading, math, and science readiness skills at an early age. They adored their preschool program, and the joy that they got from mastering these early challenges stoked the love of learning that all children are born with. Encouraged by these successes, I invited other children to join the program so they could play together and learn to socialize.

Eventually, Nicole started kindergarten at a private school, where she enjoyed the social interaction but was bored with the academics. One day, she asked why she learned more at home than she did in school. Realizing that I had no good answer for her, I decided then to start my own private school – Merit Academy – for my daughters. Once again, they thrived in the small classes of 3 to 6 students. As the director of the school, I was able to tweak the curriculum to meet their exact needs. They studied grammar, history, literature, and math at an accelerated rate, and were writing research papers by third grade. Once they’d reached high school, I reduced the class size to just one student so they would be able to engage with their teachers without the limitations of peer pressure.

My daughters and their classmates got an incredibly rich education at Merit, which not only consisted of individually tailored lectures, comprehensive research papers, and opportunities to acquire in-depth knowledge, but also included frequent field trips all over the world for them and their teachers. Most importantly, I designed their curriculum so that by the time they turned 18, they would have the academic, social, business, and professional skills to become anything they wanted. The girls helped me design the classes, and each trimester, they would select their own courses and teachers. While all of this may sound extravagant, it didn't cost me a penny because the costs of running the school were covered by the other students' tuition.

The girls were already flourishing at this point, but as Merit Academy’s college advisor, I encouraged each student to further demonstrate their creativity, initiative, and tenacity by doing an original, independent project. Nicole's first project was building a hydrogen fuel cell, and Jaclyn's was starting a videography business. Developing these projects on their own was the ultimate step to the girls’ empowerment. They had to learn how to overcome real-world obstacles, communicate with adults, and manage their time by balancing their multiple dance classes with their academic load.

Each success only further bolstered their confidence. By the time they’d started to apply to colleges, they both had four-page resumes that included the businesses and non-profits they’d started, the articles and books they’d published, and the research they’d conducted. Not only did they breeze through their college interviews with all of the interesting stories they had to share, they also received 80% of the scholarships they applied for. Nicole is currently in her third year at Stanford School of Medicine, and Jaclyn has accepted a job offer as a newly-minted graduate of Claremont McKenna College.

While I certainly did my best to give my daughters everything (within reason), I’m no Helicopter Mom; I neither tried to protect them from failure nor did any of their work for them. Likewise, I might seem like a Tiger Mom on the surface, given how actively and fiercely I was involved with their education, but that label doesn’t fit either. My girls had the freedom to choose their own classes, interests, and social activities, and they always knew that they had my unconditional love and support. I was neither an enabler nor a martinet. Rather, I believe I found the happy medium between these two extremes, a place from which I could be a guide to my children and provide them with the opportunities they needed to become accomplished, intelligent, responsible young adults. I am an American Tiger Mom.

Monday, September 12, 2011

College Contracts: Make One With Your College Freshman!

Contracts: They are everywhere in life when something important is on the line. When we start a new job, we sign a contract. When we purchase a house or that new car: a contract. As we embark on weighty events and decisions in life, more often than not, contracts are signed to ensure that all parties involved end up with the results they desire. Sending your child off to college should be no different, because hey, there is a lot on the line! First and foremost, your child's safety, happiness and success. Equally important: those ever-increasing college tuitions and fees. Books, rent, food, parking tickets, gas, insurance and let's not forget that cell phone bill. The list goes on and on. So, how can we be sure that our dear daughter or son is succeeding in college (and not just partying), as we send our hard-earned money off to them each month? It is really quite simple: creat a contract!

I can't tell you how many times I have heard the following scenario: a high school senior has been accepted to their college of choice. It's near the beach and supposedly there is a terrific guy to gal ratio....oh yeah, and they have a good psychology program too. The student admits, "well, my parents said I can go to college and they will pay my expenses, or I can get a job and make it on my own; so I chose college of course." With that attitude, how can the parents or student expect good grades and a fulfilling college experience? They can't. That is where the contract comes into the picture.

Before sending your child off as a freshman, sit them down and work out a contract that makes sense to everyone. In doing this, you give your child the autonomy that they desire as they enter adulthood, while simultaniously ensuring that you maintain control over your finances. Every child is different, and so will be every contract. Let's say hypothetically that you have agreed to pay for your son's tution, fees, rent and books. He has earned a GPA of 3.5 throughout high school, and therefor you can expect roughly the same level of achievement in college. The contract will specify that if he falls below a 3.5 GPA, you will continue to pay tuition and fees, but he will be responsible for financing his rent and books. Should he fall below a 2.5, he is responsible for paying for college entirely. The contract will be individualized completely around your and your child's expectations; but you can see how it will most certainly benefit every one. Additionally, if your 3.5 student surprises you with a 4.0 his first quarter, perhaps a reward (incentive) is in order...maybe you pay his cell phone bill that month.

The details of your contract will be completely individualized to your family, but having a contract could be one of the best decisions you make prior to sending your student off to college. Your child will have an additional insentive to maintain good grades, and you will keep control of your purse strings.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

"Santa Cruz Educator's Book Chides 'Tiger Mom' "

I was interviewed recently by journalist Chelsea Hawkins about my latest book, "Our Entitled Children: An American Tiger Mom's Story." The article was printed this week in two publications, and will be featured by the Huffington Post in the near future.

As you may know, I wrote the book in response to Amy Chua's book, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother." If you follow my blog (and clearly you do if you are reading this right now), Twitter, or Facebook pages, then you also know how ridiculous I found Chua's book to be. Writing this responsorial book in two weeks was not a difficult task, but rather something I felt compelled to do.

Parenting, as we well know, is a task that does not come with a handbook. We do our very best, often learning by trial and error, sometimes from other's successes and mistakes, and we find a parenting style that works for us as a family. We go through all of this with the hope that our children will grow up to be independent, self-sufficient, successful, and good human beings. Sure, everyone parents differently; but I genuinely disagree with Chua's style and I had to say something! "Our Entitled Children: An American Tiger Mom's Story" directly discusses Chua's controversial and infamous views.

Through Hawkin's article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, my wish is to open up a dialogue between parents about different parenting styles. Take a minute to read the article, and if you have any input, criticism, and thoughts I would love to hear them! As always, thank you for reading my blog!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Five W's (and an H) When Considering Colleges

Who, what, when, where, how and why--when it comes to considering colleges. The short answer: as early as possible! The long answer: let's begin with the W's and that ever-important H.

Who: Your child
What: College
When: Now!
Where: Colleges that focus on your child's intended major
Why: Because every child deserves an education
How: The financial aspect

If you are a parent, this is a question that you likely thought of well before your first born even entered the world. How will we raise our children to be intelligent human beings? How will we afford college and ensure they will be prepared? Will they stay close to home or will they run for the hills? What will they want to study and "be" when they grow up? Personally speaking, these are questions that I thought of constantly as my children grew up. These questions turned into topics of regular conversation as my girls grew older.

When should you start thinking about college? As soon as possible! Integrate the topic into conversation when they enter school. Let your children know what is expected of them, and how a higher education will benefit them in their future. As your kids get ready to leave middle school and enter high school, college admissions should begin to take the front seat. What are your child's gifts and talents and how does she or he want to apply them to college and a career? What colleges are best known for the majors they are considering? When do those colleges begin taking applications and what are their deadlines? Is there anything we can do to make our applicant stand out amongst the thousands of other great applicants? These are all important questions that we should start thinking about early because college does not begin when you drop your student off at their dorm room; it begins NOW.

A helpful hypothetical:

Let's say for example that your daughter has always had a passion for helping animals. She has brought home every stray cat for the last fifteen years and nursed it back to health. She's volunteered at the local SPCA since she was eight years old, and maybe even started a non-profit group of her own that helps raise money for animal welfare. As she enters her freshman year in high school it is evident that she hopes to study veterinary medicine. It would be helpful to know that there are twenty-eight colleges in the U.S. that offer majors in veterinary medicine, and which of those schools are in the top five. With four years of high school ahead of her, you have time to learn what these colleges are looking for in their ideal candidates. Your child's high school transcript should reflect their hard work through their GPA, extracurricular activities, and individual projects. The next step is to stay on top of deadlines! Prepare for the SAT's and ACT's so that your daughter places well in her exams, thereby exhibiting both her intelligence and desire to attend college. It may seem like four years is a long time to decide on which colleges to apply to and to finish the application prerequisites, but believe me, it will go by in a flash! Lastly, as your daughter enters her senior year, be sure you are well aware of the college and scholarship application deadlines. As with any situation, if they wait until the last minute, they put themselves in an incredibly stressful situation that could have been easily avoided. Do yourself and your child a favor and keep these deadlines in the forefront of your mind and at the top of your priority list. Not only will it prevent unnecessary anxiety, but it will set a great example about the importance of time management for your child.

Once you begin to receive letters of acceptance (and realistically some of denial) you will be faced with the question of how you'll make college happen financially. Maybe you've been able to save up over the years with college in mind, or maybe you've had to dip into that nest egg for the unexpected, (because hey, life happens)! One avenue that is definitely worth exploring is that of scholarships and grants. So many people just assume they won't qualify that they don't bother to pursue these options. Big mistake. While it does take time, effort, hard work and persistence, this is one part of the college application that you don't want to skip. This is something you can research on your own; or if you have questions and/or doubts, College Advisors are a fantastic option available to you.

Sure, it may all seem a bit daunting: keeping your child on the right track, staying ahead of deadlines, and researching colleges until your head is spinning; but this is one aspect of your child's life that deserves your full attention. Higher education is an accessible gift that every person deserves, and the rewards are invaluable. Whether you are the parent of a six year-old or a sixteen year-old, college is a topic that you should be including in your daily dialogue.

I have created a short video that covers the basics of college advisory. I am confident that it will be helpful as you think about your college-bound student!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Curious Case of Babymoons

It used to be that a “babymoon” referred to the period of time that parents spent bonding with a newborn baby, but in recent years, people have instead been using it to describe a vacation that expectant parents take before the baby arrives. Whether it’s Natalie Portman or French First Lady Carla Bruni, the recent uptick in celebrity babymoons has been making more and more Americans aware of this phenomenon. The implication behind it, of course, is that once your baby arrives, life as you know it is over.

This way of thinking is understandable, since even the rich and famous, with their nearly limitless resources, apparently expect a newborn child to be a challenging addition to their lives. And while a new baby can be tough on anyone, having an army of nannies, housekeepers, and tutors at their disposal does make things a little easier! But what most normal middle-class parents don’t realize is that with a little bit of effort, planning, and ingenuity, they too can have those advantages for themselves. Instead of settling for a mediocre daycare center or paying $1,200-2,000 a month for childcare, you can have someone take care of your child, help her develop intellectually as well as socially, and cook meals and clean the house, all without paying a penny out of pocket. How? Simple: start your own daycare program. If you can enroll a few other children, their tuition will easily cover your costs.

That may seem like a daunting task, but it’s worth it to have total control over where, how, and with whom your child spends her day, not to mention being able to have such an extravagant luxury for free. If you don’t know where to start, don’t worry, because The Working Mother’s Guide to Free Child Care In Your Home (out on paperback and soon to be available on Kindle, Nook, and iTunes) will take you through the process step by step. Not only does it have detailed instructions for setting up a stimulating and enriching developmental curriculum from infancy all the way through preschool, there’s also advice on everything from finding the right caregiver, to getting licensed and insured, setting your rates, advertising your program, and even dealing with other parents. Read this book and you’ll be on your way to having free, high-quality child care in your home in no time. So go right ahead and have your babymoon, because with all the money you’ll save, you might as well enjoy that trip you’ve always wanted to take!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Worried about getting into college? Do a Project!

Thanks to budget cuts, California’s higher education system is going through tough times, and students from across the state are feeling the strain. We’ve already gone over the fact that the UC’s are now admitting a lower percentage of residents, which means that their ever-higher admissions standards are only getting more so for Californians. It’s becoming harder and harder to stand out. These days, with the abundance of AP and Honors classes offered at many high schools, a 3.6 GPA or even a 4.0 doesn’t get you nearly as far as it used to. Many students know this, and try to cram as many sports and extracurricular activities into their schedules as they can, but it can be hard to stand out even by doing that because so many kids take that approach.

If you’re an upcoming high school senior, not only does this make it harder to get into Berkeley or UCLA, it makes it harder to obtain quality financial aid once you get there. A UC Regents Scholarship is notoriously difficult to get, and is reserved for only the most exceptional students. So, how can you convince them that you’re exceptional and put yourself over the top? By doing a Project - an original undertaking outside the classroom that reflects your interests and aspirations. A Project can take many forms; you could start a business, invent a new product, produce a film, publish a book, or campaign for policy changes. What’s important is that by accomplishing something unique and impactful, you’ll be demonstrating the creativity, initiative, and tenacity that admissions officers truly covet.

Projects have helped many Merit students get into the college of their dreams. My own daughters, Nicole and Jaclyn, impressed many an admissions officer with their tales of starting a nonprofit for alternative energy and building a hydrogen fuel cell. Not only did they get into their first choice of colleges, they also received 80% of the scholarships they applied for, including Jaclyn's $10,000 Toyota Community Scholars award.

Because they involve accomplishing something in the real world, projects put you in touch with leaders of science, industry, and politics. They also help you develop your entrepreneurial skills, hone your ability to do independent research, and learn to interact with the media. Not only will of this give you a wealth of insight into who you are and what careers you’re best suited for, it’ll also endow you with the self-confidence that comes from knowing that you did something very few kids your age even attempt – change the world for the better.

To learn more about doing a Project, read the book or visit our website!

University of California now admitting less Californians

Californians have long had the best public university system in the world, but because of our ongoing budget crisis, current high school students and their parents are facing some grim realities. In order to cope with expected budget cuts of $500 million to $1 billion, the University of California system is continuing to increase the number of admissions slots offered to out-of-state applicants, who pay three times as much tuition as residents do. Out-of-state admissions share now stands at 18%, up from 11.6% just two years ago. That translates to about 4,700 well-qualified Californians who will be denied admission to their own universities in favor of nonresidents.

Some of this shortfall can be made up for by the California State University system, whose local campuses offer admissions guarantees for regions historically served by that campus. That means that a high school student from San Jose is guaranteed a spot at San Jose State as long as he meets the minimum of a 2.45 GPA and 1550 SAT I score (no other criteria required). These campuses then fill the rest of their slots with the best applicants from across the state. While this is extremely helpful for many borderline students, it raises its own set of problems, especially for average students who don’t live near a CSU campus, like those from Santa Cruz. Not only are they not guaranteed admission into either of the public university systems that their parents pay taxes for, they face the likelihood of being bumped from a school with a good program in their chosen major by a less-qualified student who either can pay more (in the case of UC’s) or lives in the local area (in the case of CSU’s).

Many of us are understandably frustrated, even outraged, that our own taxpayer-funded universities are restricting our options for an affordable, high-quality education. But at the same time, could losing spots to nonresidents actually be, as the UC Regents claim, “better for Californians?” After all, the alternative is even deeper cuts to already-strained departments and services, at a time when some science majors are already taking 5 to 6 years to complete because of the dearth of available classes. Parents of California, which do you think is the more important mission for the UC’s to prioritize: providing the highest possible quality of education, or continuing to serve the people of this state?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Working in the summer? Learn how to get FREE Child Care!

Now that summer and the end of the school year are fast approaching, working moms and dads, especially those with young children, will soon have to confront the yearly hassle of finding something for their kids to do for the next three months. Whether you want to make sure your child doesn't waste his whole summer vegging out on video games, or just need the security of knowing that someone's watching him while you're at work, now is a good time to look into ways to get free child care in your own home.

It doesn't take much effort to find a qualified caregiver and set up a summer day care program that will both entertain and enrich your kids. For example, when my daughters were young, I hired a theater teacher for the summer who taught them how to put on musicals. Not only did the girls love singing and dancing and dressing up in costumes, they also gained a lot of stage presence and learned to be comfortable with performing in front of an audience, skills which have continued to serve them well throughout their lives. And because other moms in the area found the theater program to be so fun and convenient, they enrolled their kids as well, which covered all of my costs! That's just one example of how to get quality free child care in your home for the summer. If you'd like to learn more, check out my book on the subject!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Give Your Child a Head Start with Merit's Summer Enrichment Program!

Summer is the time for fun and relaxation, but it can also be a great opportunity to lay the foundation for future success. Whether your child could use some extra help in a difficult subject, or would just like to be challenged to take his or her academic skills to the next level, every student can benefit from Merit Educational Consultants’ Summer Enrichment Program. Unlike regular summer school classes, which typically don’t teach for understanding, only cover remedial material, and function as little more than daycare services, Merit’s comprehensive K-12 Summer Program is designed to give your child a true head start on the school year. As an added bonus, classes can be held in your home and scheduled around your family’s needs, activities, and vacations.

To provide the maximum level of individual attention and flexibility, all Merit Summer Program classes are taught one-on one. Students who want to make up a class or explore a particular subject can choose from any class in the entire Merit Academy curriculum, all of them WASC and UC A-G accredited. On the other hand, if your student could use a boost to his or her academic skills, we also offer intensive, grade-appropriate workshops on building math skills, reading comprehension, literature appreciation, composing essays, and writing research papers, as well as both the SAT I and II. These workshops let students hone their abilities in a stress-free environment, away from the pressure-filled school year.

Summer is also a great time to start thinking about college applications, and to that end, Merit’s Summer Program includes both our popular College Advisory service, where students meet personally with the director to select the best-fit colleges and design a plan for getting in, and our college application essay workshop, where the director helps students fine-tune their essay topics and writing mechanics so that they can complete polished essays before their senior year. The director can also help students beat the college admissions game by guiding them step-by-step through the process of doing an original Project that will demonstrate the student’s leadership and intellectual curiosity.

As you can see, Merit’s Summer Program offers the breadth and depth to meet even the most individualized needs, and we’d be happy to design a unique and custom-tailored plan for your child’s success. To learn more about the Summer Program, click here to see the brochure!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Merit Planner Can Change Your Teen’s Life

Teenagers who’ve grown up in the Multi-Tasking Era are expected to be able to do many things at once; but even though they love to watch TV, do homework, and chat on Facebook at the same time, most have yet to learn how to apply that same deftness to managing the myriad of demands upon their schedules. Every parent can recall an instance in which they’ve asked their teen whatever happened to that book report that was due last week, or when their next test is, only to receive a blank look in return. And who can blame them? Even though time management is the key to success in high school, college, and beyond, the average school planner gives teens very little tools or training for properly planning out their schedules. These planners are set up for students to enter tasks on the days they were assigned, not when they’re due, so students learn to treat a planner as a glorified calendar, rather than as a powerful tool for taking control of every aspect of their lives.

The Merit Planner is that tool. It’s designed to let students organize tasks according to their due dates, and to block off the exact amount of time needed for every homework assignment, study session, or extracurricular activity. This gives them complete knowledge of and control over their schedules, as well as the freedom to enjoy their downtime without nagging guilty or uncertainty. With each day of the week divided into 15-minute intervals from 7am to midnight, not only is there plenty of space for precisely recording the time needed for every task and activity, there’s also just as much space for nights and weekends, allowing you to easily see your whole schedule for the week at a glance and avoid those inevitable conflicts between family, friends, and schoolwork. It’s also a good way to get the whole family on the same page; I have clients who start their weeks by sitting down around the breakfast table and discussing everyone’s plans, which is especially handy for efficiently dividing the labor for family chores like spring cleaning that might otherwise consume entire weekends, or coordinating hectic carpool schedules.

The Merit Planner gives parents an easy way to see if their teen is on top of everything, and the peace of mind that comes from knowing that they are. Most importantly, it empowers teens with critical life skills, and endows them with the confidence and self-esteem that can only come from being in control of their busy lives.

The 2011 edition of the Merit Planner is available at the Merit Bookstore

Blog Widget by LinkWithin