Even during COVID-19 graduation is still exciting! Although Menlo-Atherton was not able to host an in person graduation, and MERO was not able to host our end of the year BBQ, we were still excited to celebrate our large group of MERO high school graduates from afar!
This year seven of our MERO alumni graduated from Menlo-Atherton High School! This group of grads is hard working, persistent, and thoughtful, and they are ready to make a difference in the world around them. Three of our graduates are enrolled in and planning to attend college in the fall! Most of the other students are hoping to attend college or job training, and Tyler and I will be working over the summer to help them register if that is what they decide they would like to do.
This special group of grads has overcome so many obstacles to get to where they are today. Not only have they all had to learn a new language and adapt to a new country, they also had the added challenge of finishing off their senior year in the midst of a global pandemic. Through spotty internet access, working to support their families, and helping siblings with homework, these grads worked so hard to graduate and deserve to be celebrated. Congratulations 2020 graduates- we are so proud of you.
Marco's carefully decorated graduation cap! Marco is hoping to study architecture. He is also the designer of our MERO 2018 program T-shirt!
Jack throws his graduation cap while taking pictures in front of the school. Jack participated in MERO 2017 and was our student coordinator in 2019. We know that he will go on to do great things!
As an organization that serves immigrants, we at MERO think a lot about borders – lines on a map which determine our language, our nationality, our access to opportunity. These lines are all around us, and in our community no border is more obvious or divisive than Highway 101. This interstate highway, built decades ago through the heart of what was once downtown East Palo Alto, divides the affluent and largely white towns of Palo Alto, Menlo Park, and Atherton, from the poorer, largely black and brown communities of East Palo Alto and Belle Haven. Separate and unequal. Yesterday, Highway 101’s eight lanes of traffic came to a sudden halt as protestors blocked the road, demanding justice for George Floyd and changes to a government that has systematically oppressed African Americans and people of color throughout its history.
The tragic events of recent weeks – from the lack of justice for a murdered black jogger in Georgia, to a white woman calling the police on a black man birding in Central Park, to the complete lack of humanity shown towards George Floyd in Minneapolis – are symptoms of our society’s pervasive inequalities and racism. We cannot count the number of times a MERO student has come to us and recounted horrific experiences of racial violence. We have wept in anger and in sadness, perhaps never more so than when a student shares their experiences as a simple matter-of-fact, as if someone throwing a milkshake at you and telling you to get out of this country were something normal.
At this critical juncture in history, we as allies must step up and hold ourselves and our leaders accountable. How can we support a more inclusive, just, and equitable society? How can we elevate the voices of people who for too long have been downtrodden and treated as less than human? How can we create a society that truly values every one of its members, regardless of the color of their skin or the language they speak? These are the questions that we need to ask ourselves, not just today, but tomorrow, and the next day, and every day after that. At MERO we are committed to providing a safe place for our students, to advocating on their behalf, and to building a more just society one interaction at a time. Not only because it is part of our mission, but because it is right. We support and join the protestors in their calls for justice. Black Lives Matter.
Our annual Monterey trip was this past Saturday and fun was had by all! The day started off with a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium where the favorite exhibits where the Baja California Garden Eels and the touch tanks.
From there we had a pizza lunch on the beach and then had tons of fun making up various competitions. Everyone was a bit reluctant to leave the beach, but nevertheless enthusiastic about our boat tour at Elkhorn Slough where we saw hundreds of animals in the wild! The favorite animal for the students was probably the otter, especially since this year we got really lucky and saw many baby otters!
A HUGE thank you to my parents, David and Janet Johnson for coming down to help us with this trip! We hope you both had as much fun as we did!
Tyler and I with the students inside Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Hee Mi and Nichole get up close with a Bat Ray!
Tyler talks with Tony and Byron about different types of sea plants and the animals that live in them.
Byron dominated the standing long jump competition!
Tony ate an impressive amount of pizza at the beach- 10 slices! And he still participated in the competitions after and even won one.
Rina enjoyed goofing around in the water.
One of the greatest joys of doing MERO is seeing our MERO alumni grow up and mature. On a recent alumni trip we took a few of our alumni to Half Moon Bay for a picnic on the beach, competitions, and eating salt water taffy. We are excited that two of the students who went on this trip (David and Guadalupe) are Seniors this year and are graduating in just two weeks! Both are enrolled in college next fall, and are determined to work hard to get their degrees! We are so proud of both of them, and are so excited to see what they do next.
Despite it being a windy and at times rainy day, we had a great time having a picnic and hanging out on the beach at Half Moon Bay!
David easily won the limbo contest!
Guadalupe, Marco, and David try Salt Water Taffy for the first time. Guadalupe and David were big fans, but Marco not so much.
At our last trip of the year to Jasper Ridge students were sad to say goodbye to the place that they have gotten to know so well over the course of the past few months. The trip was bittersweet as students have grown attached to Jasper Ridge, but also are excited about our end of the year trip to Monterey next weekend, and our BBQ and awards ceremony during finals week.
Byron, Viliami, Luis, and Jack goof around with some of the scientific equipment during a photo shoot session.
Rina, Luis, Tony, and Viliami use tools to figure out how to measure the turbidity of the lake water. On this last trip to Jasper Ridge we focused on learning about water and the animals that live in it in preparation for our trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Elkhorn Slough next weekend.
It has been a busy month for Tyler and I and our MERO students! We have been busy planning events, having events, and individually checking in with all of our students, so we have not been as good about updating our blog as usual. Please stay tuned in the coming weeks and months for awesome throwback pictures and stories from the events of the past month!
This past weekend was our annual backpacking trip to Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve! This event is always one of the highlights of the year and this year was no exception! Students carried everything that they needed to camp on their backs into our campsite. This experience showed students that they are stronger than they think and that they are capable of doing difficult things. When we started out hiking, most of the students expressed concern that they would not be able to make the 3.5 mile hike in with all of the weight on their back, but through a lot of encouragement from the group everyone made it!
Once we reached camp it was time for climbing trees, playing capture the flag, and individual reflections. This group was very introspective during the individual reflection time and community circle, and their willingness to share their thoughts and struggles and to support each other moved Tyler and I to tears. It is truly magical to see the power of nature and getting away from the stresses of daily life. The kids started out the trip clearly stressed out about various serious issues in their lives, but once they arrived at camp, unplugged from technology, and allowed themselves to experience the beauty and peace of the area we were in, they transformed into carefree kids having a blast camping. This is something that I have experienced myself many times, but getting to witness such clear changes in our kids over these two days was truly incredible. MERO students are kids that for numerous reasons have had to grow up way too quickly and never really got a childhood. This weekend was ground breaking in that many of them got to experience for the first time a carefree and peaceful day. Witnessing and sharing in this is something that Tyler and I will always be grateful for. After this weekend, Tyler and I have found ourselves contemplating how we can experience a bit of the magic that happened over the weekend on a daily basis. We came to the conclusion that getting outside a bit everyday is very important even if it is just sitting in our yard for a few minutes, or taking a walk around the neighborhood, or biking to work. We also concluded that taking time every week to fully unplug from technology is very important- turning our phones off for a few hours can allow us to be fully present with the sounds, smells, sights, and people that are around us. Thank you for reading all of my thoughts about the weekend and for your continued support of MERO!
Making S'mores after dinner!
After singing and playing Ukelele all together, Tony tries his hand at some of the chords to "Brown Eyed Girl"
Daniel and Gerardo pose with their backpacks.
Lusma, Hee Mi, and Nichole pose proudly by their tent after setting it up all by themselves!
Last Tuesday current MERO students had the opportunity to visit Planet Granite Belmont and try their hands (and feet!) at Rock Climbing! Student cheered each other on as they tackled the rock, and pushed themselves to try challenging routes. This was a very important event for building a strong group culture and morale, as students learned through climbing to support each other and trust Tyler and I. Thank you Planet Granite for allowing us this amazing opportunity and for being a strong supporter of MERO!
The very next day Tyler and I roped in again to take a group of MERO alumni climbing. Three of the students had been on our alumni climbing trip in November and were eager to get back at it again. The favorite route was a slightly overhung crack climb that challenged the students' abilities. Students already are asking about when we can go back and climb again!
Yesterday we had our first field trip of the 2019 MERO program! We started off the year with a tour of the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve, which is a nature reserve and research station owned by Stanford University. It is also a perennial favorite hang out for MERO students! Scroll down to see photos of our students exploring the reserve, checking out the wildlife, and having a lot of fun!
Our students loved getting a close look at wildlife with our full set of binoculars. Here are two of them learning to use the binoculars while looking at ducks on Searsville Lake.
Posing for a photo while learning about biodiversity. We did a biodiversity scavenger hunt to see who could find and document the greatest variety of life.
Left to right: MERO co-founder Ahzha McFadden, 2019 participant Rina, and 2019 student coordinator Jack looking cool on the Searsville Dam. Jack participated in the 2017 MERO program and was thrilled to be back at Jasper Ridge as a student leader.
Over the next four months, we'll be going out to the field every two weeks with these students, doing hands-on ecological research and exploring beautiful natural areas.
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We kicked off MERO 2019 on Wednesday with a family dinner and information night, featuring special guest and Stanford professor of biology Rodolfo Dirzo. Thank you to all of the families for coming out and to Rodolfo for your inspiring presentation. We have a very enthusiastic group of students this year, and we're looking forward to our first day in the field next week! Stay tuned for photos, videos, and stories from the field!
Introducing Jack- our 2019 MERO student coordinator! Jack participated in the MERO program of 2017 and is now back in a leadership position. We are very excited to have him! To help you get to know Jack better we have a short interview with him below.
Question: What grade are you in?
Jack: I am a Junior this year at M-A.
Question: What MERO event are you most excited for?
Jack: The trip to Monterey! I want to see the animals again and spend time in nature and at the beach.
Question: What was the best part about participating in MERO in 2017?
Jack: The sandwiches!* And going to Jasper Ridge. I liked seeing the animal prints, bones, and the scientific cameras. I liked using the camera traps to see what types of animals live there.
Question: Why are you excited about being the MERO 2019 student coordinator?
Jack: I will be able to help people that do not speak English and help them be better in English and encourage them to stay in school. I can also encourage them to learn more about science if that is something they want to do.
Question: What do you like to do when you are not at school or MERO?
Jack: I like to go on long bike rides and fix bikes. I also like to spend time with friends and eat or help them fix their bikes. On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday I work at McDonalds which is good for me because I get to practice my English with a lot of different people.
Thank you Jack! Stay tuned for a video tour with Jack at Jasper Ridge coming later this season!
*Jack is a very enthusiastic eater of MERO's famous ham and cheese sandwiches. Many students share his enthusiasm for the sandwiches.
Welcome to La Mera Ciencia, the official blog of Menlo-Atherton Ecology Research Outdoors (MERO). Founded in 2017, MERO is a free, after-school environmental education program for high school English Language Learners that gets students outside doing ecology. Mero (or mera for feminine words like ciencia) is Spanish for "legit" or "the real thing", which is exactly the kind of science we do in the MERO program!