Sharing the Queen of Soul's Legacy with Future Generations

Youth today don't understand where their music evolved from. As an old timer myself, I grew up in the 50s and 60s when the birth of rock 'n roll revolutionized music. To honor legends like Aretha Franklin, I wrote and directed the musical revue "Best of Rock 'n Roll Music: 1955-1975" back in 1998. My students at Merit helped research and select an artist and #1 song for every year between 1955 and 1975. We wrote short introductory speeches that described each artist's style and legacy before they performed the number in full costume. They even collected album covers and used them as props on stage.

Nicole sang "R.E.S.P.E.C.T." in our 1998 productions. She and her classmates took this musical revue on the road as a school business where they performed for business functions, senior centers, and birthday parties. At under 100 lbs, we had to add inches to Nicole's small frame so she could pull off Arethra's image. During the summer before the production, we watched dozens of videos to learn more about each of the rock 'n roll legacies that we honored that summer.

"When John Hammond of Columbia Records first heard 18-year-old Aretha Franklin, he called her 'an untutored genius, the best natural singer since Billie Holiday.' She sang the frantic hits "I Never Loved a Man," "Natural Woman," "Chain of Fools," and "R.E.S.P.E.C.T." Aretha's "R.E.S.P.E.C.T." is an example of bass-line syncopation, which provided a bouncy alternative to the steady quarter- or eighth-note pulse of the blues. Aretha Franklin was inducted into the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame in 1987." -- speech by Merit student.

I believe that these students have a deep appreciation for artists like Aretha Franklin and the other greats -- Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, The Beatles, Rolling Stones, etc. -- because they studied them. Aretha Franklin was the Queen of Soul and an icon in the civil rights movement. Her legacy will live on forever.

Ethics in Education and College Admissions

I’m disgusted by the lying and cheating going on in education.  We are supposed to be role models to our students – we set the guidelines and rules and lead by example.  So when I hear that some teachers change their students’ standardized tests to show higher scores, I’m baffled.  When I hear that some athletes are admitted to selective colleges because of bribery, I get angry.  And now when I hear that Harvard’s admissions officers are being investigated because they are discriminating against Asian Americans, my blood boils.

It seems the stakes have gotten so high that parents, teachers, coaches, and even admissions officers are willing to twist the facts and do just about anything –ethical or not – to give certain students advantages over others.  Why can’t admission to college be based on academic excellence and what the student can bring to the college community?

Forget legacies.  This just reinforces colleges giving way to alumni who donate (isn’t this bribery?) so that their children who usually aren’t as qualified as others are admitted. 

Forget athletes.  Yup!  Admissions officers adjust the academic bar when making exceptions for student athletes.  These athletes often get preferential treatment with tutors, proctors administering final exams, and other questionable practices.

Forget affirmative action.  Why not admit students based on academic skills and talents?  If 2 students are 100% equal, then admissions could consider people of color or other minorities.  But I don’t believe that we should change the academic standards simply to make the student body more diverse.  (This is another conversation – we need to give all students equal access to good education so everyone can compete and be successful at the most prestigious colleges).

Let’s not send the message to our children that they can lie, cheat, or bribe their way into elite colleges.  Besides being unethical, do we really want to give our children the message that we don’t believe that they have the intelligence, skills, or talents to get in on their own merit?

TEDxMeritAcademy Speaker Eva Prakash

Thrilled that we are hosting our second TEDx event at the Rio Theatre in Santa Cruz! Join us on Aug 12, 2018 at 2 pm!  Get your tickets for TEDxMeritAcademy at  Meet Eva Prakash!

“Why Diversity Matters for the Future of Artificial Intelligence” by Eva Prakash
The world is in a period of revolutionary digital transformation that is driven by artificial intelligence and machine learning. But as AI’s uses become more widespread, an important question arises: who will be building these technologies? Currently, there is a diversity crisis in engineering – women and people of color make up only a small percentage of computer scientists, and their numbers appear to be even lower in the AI field. What are the implications if this massively important technology is fundamentally biased? And what can we do to bridge the gap?
About Eva Prakash:
Eva Prakash is a rising senior and an advocate of diversity in artificial intelligence. She is the founder and CEO of Girl 2.0, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization in California that is dedicated to closing the gender gap in technology by providing free computer science education to girls and other underrepresented minorities in STEM. The organization is focused on debunking the myth that coding is only for “white guys in hoodies” by rebranding what it means to be a computer scientist. Currently, Eva is a student researcher in computational biology at Stanford University, where she works on the interpretability of machine learning models for genomics.

TEDxMeritAcademy Speaker Eshika Nellore

Thrilled that we are hosting our second TEDx event at the Rio Theatre in Santa Cruz! Join us on Aug 12, 2018 at 2 pm!  Get your tickets for TEDxMeritAcademy at  Meet Eshika Nellore!

“How Identifying Bad Breath Can Save Your Life” by Eshika Nellore
Worried that plagues and diseases will cause hundreds of thousands of people to die, Eshika will present a refreshing solution to stop the spread of these illnesses. She brings to light, logical explanations behind shots and how they help protect the body from these epidemics. Come see how she implements music, art and reasoning in her talk!
About Eshika Nellore:
Eshika is a high school senior who is interested in studying medicine and public health. She founded Get Your Shots!, wrote a song and created a whiteboard video to prevent the return of eradicated diseases because there is a rise of people who are not getting immunized. As a volunteer in the Philippines, Eshika saw firsthand the recurrence of many diseases due to lack of vaccinations. While there, she educated indigenous people (Aeta communities) about a eating a high protein diet and washing your hands after using the restroom or before eating. In high school, Eshika was a speech and debate captain for expository speech and assisted a cardiologist. She is also a singer who has been vocally trained in musical theatre and opera for five years and has received awards in singing competitions.

TEDxMeritAcademy Speaker Ethan Hsiao

Thrilled that we are hosting our second TEDx event at the Rio Theatre in Santa Cruz! Join us on Aug 12, 2018 at 2 pm!  Get your tickets for TEDxMeritAcademy at  Meet Ethan Hsaio!

“Demystifying Nanotech” by Ethan Hsaio
Despite the highly difficult, “for-geniuses-only” stigma of nanotechnology, the truth is that everyone can understand nanotech and expand its reaches through their own contributions. Ethan discusses finding a new, unprecedented crystal structure while analyzing the ratios of the amount of chemicals (precursor molar ratios) in the chemical reaction that results in the product MoS2 , a 2D material. These results could have implications on the industrial implementation of transistors and nano-LEDs, as well as lead to a better understanding of how MoS2 synthesis works.
About Ethan Hsiao:
A high school senior, Ethan is passionate about nanoscience and materials science and by the interdisciplinary component that they encompass. He researched the synthesis of a 2D material that had a variety of applications in nanotech. Ethan hopes to give a glimpse of what makes nanotech exciting.

TEDxMeritAcademy Speaker Aryan Dawra

Thrilled that we are hosting our second TEDx event at the Rio Theatre in Santa Cruz! Join us on Aug 12, 2018 at 2 pm!  Get your tickets for TEDxMeritAcademy at  Meet Aryan Dawra!

“Cleaning up the Atmosphere One Car at a Time” by Aryan Dawra” by Aryan Dawra
The Particulate Emissions Tailpipe (PET) is a device that can be attached to the end of your car’s tailpipe and captures the toxic particulate matter that is emitted from the engine. Aryan experimented and found that by creating an electric field within this device, it acts like a filter. PET is designed to be built using household and easily accessible items. Check out the PET Tailpipe Youtube Channel so you can build your own PET yourself and reduce the toxic particulates that spews from your car’s tailpipe.
About Aryan Dawra:
Aryan Dawra is a rising senior who enjoys taking on big challenges like global warming. He designed and engineered the Particulate Emissions Tailpipe, also known as the PET Tailpipe. PET is a device that captures the particulate matter that comes out of your car’s tailpipe.

TEDxMeritAcademy Speaker Joel I. Bullard II

Thrilled that we are hosting our second TEDx event at the Rio Theatre in Santa Cruz! Join us on Aug 12, 2018 at 2 pm!  Get your tickets for TEDxMeritAcademy at  Meet Joel I. Bullard II!

“How Identifying Bad Breath Can Save Your Life” by Joel I. Bullard II
Did you know that the smell of your breath can be a precursor to diseases or conditions of your body? It can also guide you with your own oral health. By paying attention to these signs, you can use the particular scent that is given off as an indicator to what specific disease or condition is within the human body. Joel will help you rethink your oral hygiene and change your life!
About Joel I. Bullard II:
Joel just completed his undergraduate college career majoring in Biology at Oakwood University. During undergraduate college, Joel worked as an anatomy and physiology lab assistant and as a dental assistant with a general dentist, an orthodontist, and an oral and maxillofacial surgeon. Joel is preparing to enter dental school and looks forward to a career in dentistry.

TEDxMeritAcademy Performers Bob Reid and Judi Jaeger

Thrilled that we are hosting our second TEDx event at the Rio Theatre in Santa Cruz! Join us on Aug 12, 2018 at 2 pm!  Get your tickets for TEDxMeritAcademy at  Meet Bob Reid and Judi Jaeger!

“Engagement and Illumination through Harmony” by Bob Reid and Judi Jaeger
Jaeger & Reid use the power of music and song to help us to empathize with people. The rich interplay of their guitars and luscious vocal harmonies create a safe environment in which to explore the lives of others. They engage audiences in concerts, listening rooms, and house concerts across the continent.

About Bob Reid and Judi Jaeger:
Judi Jaeger played guitar and sang as a teen, and then put it aside for 25 years while going to law school, becoming a practicing attorney and then raising two children. She picked up her guitar again and began writing songs in response to her mother’s early death of dementia, and continues as a serious student of songwriting and performing.Bob Reid has been writing and performing in schools, concerts and festivals across the country for over 40 years. Recognized for his work in music for children, as well as adults, Bob has become nationally recognized. His songs are sung and recorded by Pete Seeger, Bill Harley, Pat Humphries and many others. Bob has appeared and his songs have been performed on the Today Show, at the White House, and at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

Jaeger and Reid Music

PROSPER ACT: More Federal Money For Colleges, Less Financial Aid For You

The PROSPER Act will cut $15 billion in student loans if it becomes law. In December 2017, the Republicans just pushed the PROSPER Act through the House without hearings and despite calls from the college communities, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Sound familiar?

The bottom line: This bill will make college MORE expensive for students and working families. Students will have to borrow more money and pay more to pay down their loans. Don’t be fooled by it’s name: PROSPER Act: Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform Act.

Once again, the Republicans have framed this act that will mislead Americans to vote for something that will ultimately hurt the people who need financial aid the most! Check out this article that lays out how student loans will change if the PROSPER Act is passed.


You Shouldn't Have To Choose Between Financial Aid and Crushing Debt

If you have trouble reading the financial aid letters and awards documents that you received with your acceptance letters from colleges, you’re not alone. Colleges send vague letters with mixed messages about what it will cost to attend. One would think that colleges would write letters that inform prospective students about their financial aid offers: 1) How much they will receive in grants and scholarships each year (free money!), 2) how much they will receive in loans (money to pay back after graduation), 3) how much their parents can borrow (money that parents back in monthly installments), and 4) work/study and student employment (paid jobs on campus). After all, wouldn’t colleges want students to get their degrees and prosper?

Doesn’t look like they do.

UAspire, a nonprofit company that promotes college access and affordability, recently reviewed 11,000 financial aid award letters from 900 colleges. They found that one third of these financial aid letters didn’t define what type of money the student was to receive (loans and grants) and camouflaged parent contributions by subtracting their financial responsibility from the total cost (making it look like the parents didn’t have to pay anything!). Other letters didn’t use the words “loan” and some didn’t indicate the total cost of attending.


When you have super excited kids wanting to attend colleges that are out of their family’s financial comfort zone, many students accept offers before realizing the incredible debt they will face upon graduation. For the poorest families, college tuition took about 20% of their income back in 1990, but today, tuition takes about 75%. This is creating a deep divide between those who can afford college and those who can’t. Do we really want a college education for just the wealthy?