I guess I'll introduce myself as a Japanese-American 50-something year old mother of two daughters. BC (before children) I never would have defined myself by my offspring, but the moment I became a mother, my perspective on life changed. BC, I founded and directed R.E.C. Day Camp and Ski Club, and then branched out to open Professional Tutoring Programs, Inc. Using my teaching credential and degree in psychology, I engaged with 6-12 year old children in a playful, academic setting. I learned how to turn a passion into a business.
After my first daughter Nicole was born, I found my new passion. I took her to work with me and built a nursery right next door to my office with a window so I could see her all day. When she was about 2 years old, I was intrigued by how quickly she learned things. Being an educator, I developed reading, writing, math, and science curriculum by adapting programs I studied for elementary school children. Creating this for my own daughter made it much more meaningful to me. I collected data to study how she learned and what improved her retention of concepts. Learning how to read letter sounds and phonograms so quickly, I found myself adjusting the program to meet her voracious appetite for knowledge. When my second daughter Jaclyn was born, I tweaked the curriculum and developed the Progressive Preschool Program that prepared children for kindergarten. My girls were reading by the time they were 3 years old and they loved learning.
I hired a teacher to teach 2 classes: One for Nicole's pre-kindergarten group of 4 children and one for Jaclyn's toddler group of 3 children. Having other children around made learning even more fun for them. That's when I realized that the tuition they paid would cover the cost of the teacher's salary and materials. That was an eye-opener! My kids were totally engaged in an amazing program -- in our own home -- and it wasn't costing me a penny. That gave me the freedom to run my businesses and write my books. I was in heaven - I had the best of both worlds!
I started Merit Academy in 1994 after Nicole went to a private school in town. Disappointed that Nicole spent her days helping other children in reading groups and not being challenged herself, I created a K-12 curriculum that would give the students the skills they would need to be successful at elite and top-notch colleges like Stanford or Harvard. Merit's rigorous curriculum intimidated many students, but Nicole and Jaclyn thrived in this environment. They loved the challenge and they loved to learn.
In 1999, I restructured Merit from a 6:1 student/teacher ratio to 1:1. That's when I saw first-hand the beauty of untethered learning. Without the distractions of dozens of children and with hand-selected teachers who had a passion about the subjects they taught, my girls and the other students thrived. We were able to continue to have supe- accelerated students as well as students with learning differences because every student had his/her own teacher.
As founder and director of Merit Educational Consultants, LLC, I developed ProjectMERIT where students do individual projects over a 3-4 year time period to understand what it is to initiate something and follow through with it until its completion. I marveled at how it made these students confident and dynamic. Nicole was one of the first students to assemble a hydrogen fuel cell, and Jaclyn founded a California non-profit and promoted hydrogen as the next energy source. These projects made for great college application essay topics and landed Nicole at Stanford for undergraduate college and Stanford School of Medicine for med school. Jaclyn won 4 of the 5 scholarships she applied for and she got into Claremont McKenna College. To give all kids the opportunity that my girls had, I wrote the book Beat the College Admissions Game: Do a Project! ProjectMERIT is the focal point of my college advisory practice. Over 60% of my clients do projects and they get into top colleges, even when they don't have perfect GPA's or SAT/ACT scores.
Although I'm best known for getting kids into great colleges and winning big scholarship dollars, I also take pride in working with at-risk students and turning them around. I remember working with a 16-year old boy whose parents had sent him off to drug rehab centers in Utah and Mexico. They were willing to relocate if they needed to keep him away from his friends, but brought him to me as a last resort. I worked with him while he made drastic changes in his life. He joined the Marine Corp for 4 years to develop discipline, and then when he returned he enrolled in a summer program. He started at a state university, transferred to UCLA where he graduated with a degree in mathematics. Then he went to Yale Law School, and is now working on his PhD in mathematics at MIT. I love working with students who just need someone to care and someone to guide them.
Personally, I love to create an organized and functional environment around me. Since college, I have built most of the furniture in my house, offices, and school. I don't build fancy furniture, but functional furniture that has specific purposes and utilizes space efficiently. Lately, I've designed and built Murphy beds, sewing cabinets, and cosmetology centers. I like to have everything in one place -- easy to see and easy find. I just built a greenhouse using repurposed windows. I added an aquaponics system so we can learn about how to grow fish and plants together in a closed-loop apparatus. I've developed 2 water catchment systems to irrigate a fruit tree orchard with food forest permaculture agriculture on our 2.5 acres. We just installed 2 bee hives to help pollinate our fruit trees and to save the bees that are being killed by pesticides. Ultimately, I plan to build a solar-hydrogen-powered community that houses a think tank for multigenerational residents. It will have edible landscapes, food forests amongst a variety of fruit trees, and aquaponics to raise fish. Innovative projects keep me young -- that's probably why I love working with students!
I created this blog as a way to share my projects and thoughts about education, health and the environment. I hop you find something here that's interesting or inspiring!