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!

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