Hunger on College Campuses

I didn’t believe it when I first read it: One in five college students report not having enough food to eat on a regular basis. In America? College students? And that’s not all. One in ten students at the community colleges report not eating for an entire day.

When college dining halls fill trays of food to keep their buffets full, you know there is a lot of waste at the end of every breakfast, lunch, and dinner hours. Instead of throwing out the food, dining halls will redirect food resources to feed students who don’t have the funds to pay for meals.

The 2019 Campus Hunger Reduction Act will make sure that every college student has food to eat simply by cutting waste. Many wealthy students skip meals when they dine at restaurants or they go home for weekends or holidays. These meal credits are often lost if not redeemed within a certain time period. With the Campus Hunger Reduction Act, these lost meal swipes may be given to students who need meals. Food insecurity should not exist on campuses and it’s about time we stop overlooking it.


Seeds of Hope Project

So proud of Aidan Whitney. He founded Seeds of Hope – a project to plant ONE MILLION trees by 2025. The best part: all of these trees will be planted by students!

Aidan has planted 100s of trees himself, and he’s working with Bay Area teachers to encourage them to mentor students as they plant trees. He has even written curriculum and made videos to streamline the process.

Check out his website at

Sesame Street for Syrian Refugees

How do we comfort Syrian refugee children when their world is in shambles? Sesame Street to the rescue! With 6 million children displaced because of the conflict in Syria, they don’t have schools or consistency. Many have witnessed the death of their parents, siblings, and friends. A new Sesame Street program called Ahlan Simsim in Arabic offers social-emotional skills, including coping strategies like counting to five and belly breathing.

The show features 2 characters who speak Arabic and features stories about having to leave their toys at their old home and other issues that the children face in their displacement. Art therapists, psychologist, and writers collaborated to develop these programs. Leave it to Sesame Street to do the research to develop shows that address children in crisis.


Homeowners: What's Your Wildfire Scarlet Letter Score?

Remember Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter? Insurance companies are “branding” homeowners with a WILDFIRE RISK SCORE. Yup! Based on your defensible space around your home (100 feet), community wildfire-mitigation efforts (Micro Communities!), construction and roofing materials, access (one-lane or dead-end roads), slope, and vegetation, insurance companies score your home to determine if they will offer renewal policies and at what rate they will charge.

There are several types of wildfire risk scoring systems that insurance companies use. The Verisk Analytics uses FireLine and ranks homes from zero (lowest) to 30 (highest). Houses that score a 1 are not at risk (73%), but a score of 2 or 3 is considered moderate risk (12%), and anything from 4 to 30 (15%) is considered high to extremely high risk. Insurers might not cover homes with a score as low as a 6 and most likely won’t cover homes over a 10 – and that’s out of 30 points! Aegis Insurance in Truckee won’t cover anything with a Fireline score over a 2; Mercury Insurance won’t cover anything with a FireLine score higher than 12.

While your insurance company may not renew your house in the future, homeowners can always get coverage from the Fair Plan or Lloyds of London. These premiums will probably be 2 to 3 times higher than your current coverage.

Winter is the time to create 100 feet of defensible space around your house, organize your Micro Communities, and get your neighbors to do the same. Insurance companies know that even if your house is the model for fire preparedness, your neighbors have to do the same in order for your fire preparedness to be effective. You don’t want to be branded with a Scarlet Number that will determine the fate of your insurance coverage and the value of your home.


VIDEO: Zachary George's TEDxMeritAcademy Video!

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

Zachary George was a featured speaker, and his TEDx Talk is embedded below.

“What If We Restructured the School Calendar?” by Zachary George
Zachary proposes that we alter the traditional school schedule by replacing long summer vacation with seven, evenly distributed, one-week breaks. This revised schedule would have the same amount of learning time, just spread out to encourage a better work/life balance. By adopting Zachary’s new schedule, students will benefit by not losing academic momentum during the summer, having a consistent and supportive schedule, experiencing less burnout, and increasing their school attendance. Zachary’s schedule is not only advantageous to students but also to parents and teachers.

About Zachary George: Zachary George is a high school senior and does many activities outside of school relating to teaching through mentoring, leadership positions, and tutoring at his local high school and middle school. Zachary hopes to help improve his teaching skills and the world of education.

Rich Kids Have it Easier

Do rich students have a better chance of getting into top colleges? One-hundred percent YES! 20% of millionaires under age 55 spend more than $50,000 to get their kids into college. Thanks to the college admissions scandal, we all know that wealthy parents have spent tens of thousands to millions of dollars to give their children an unfair advantage of getting into their alma maters or other elite universities.

Besides having parents who donate funds to build science labs or theaters for target colleges, many wealthy children benefit from receiving private lessons in the arts, sports, or other extracurricular activities that make them stand out to college admissions officers. They can get the best SAT/ACT preparation, hire private college advisors, have experts write their college application essays, and get “family friends of influence” to write them letters of recommendation.

As a college advisor myself, I recognize that we at Merit Educational Consultants cater to families who can afford our fees for college advisory, ProjectMerit, essay guidance, and SAT/ACT prep. But we do offer probono support for low-income students and I write blogs giving free advice for all students and parents. This doesn’t even the playing field but I hope that it helps.


VIDEO: Spencer Balliet's TEDxMeritAcademy Video!

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

Spencer Balliet was a featured speaker, and his TEDx Talk is embedded below.

“Why Plastic Belongs in the Trash” by Spencer Balliet: Plastic is piling up all over the country, and we only have ourselves to blame! Spencer Balliet will talk about the problems facing the recycling industry and what can be done to fix it. This includes information about the misconceptions of plastic, what has happened to the recycling industry over the past two years, what you can do right now, and his project H.E.A.R.T. Plastics that intends to save millions of pounds of plastic from landfills all over the country.

About Spencer Balliet: Spencer Balliet has a passion for computer science and technology. He runs his own virtual reality company to help introduce world to the amazing new technology being developed.


Holiday Lip Balm Gifts

This year our holiday gift is lip balm made from organic oils and butters – no paraffins, preservatives, or chemicals. We mixed in our favorite essential oils, heated it up, and poured them in containers.

Instead of the chapstick-style containers that we’ve used in the past, we are using glass containers with metal lids. With a little research, we got all ingredients and materials online – and the cost was the same as using plastic!

Love making gifts for friends and family for the holidays.

Methane (Natural Gas) Appliances Ban Beginning in California

One way to “divest” in natural gas (AKA METHANE) is to buy and install all-electric appliances. Yup! Don’t buy gas-powered appliances this holiday – and replace your gas stoves, heaters, dryers, etc. with electric ones when yours breaks down.

Starting in January 2020, all-electric appliances will be “encouraged” for all new buildings in areas in California. The California Energy Commission is working with 6 local governments to limit the use of natural gas for new construction. Berkeley has already passed a ban on gas appliances last summer, and Marin County has had a gas ban since April 2018. Yahoo!

Now San Jose, Menlo Park, San Mateo, West Hollywood, Santa Monica, and Marin County will ban or limit gas appliances in new buildings. While there are a few exceptions, I’m thrilled to see that California is leading the nation in the natural gas ban. There will be a backlash from the gas companies to protect their financial interests in continuing to FRACK across the nation to provide natural gas (methane). Remember natural gas (methane) is 20 times more potent than CO2 and is a major contributor towards global warming.

We can do this! Buy electric!


New Podcast: Consumerism and the Holidays

In today's podcast, I talk about why and how I changed my gift-giving habits.  This year, instead of feeling the pressure to buy buy buy, let's slow down and think about what's really important - relationships and making memories. 

Giving gifts can often feel like you're reducing your relationship with someone from something personal to something transactional, where the purchase price of the gift reflects that person's value to you (and vice versa).  So why not give handmade gifts or share a conversation or a meal with friends and loved ones?  These are things that come from a more personal place that reflects more of who you are, and can make more of a connection with others than a store-bought gift.  And isn't that what the holidays are REALLY about?

To listen to today's podcast, find GakkoMom on iTunes and subscribe to it, or listen below: