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.
The last few weeks we have been busy organizing our 2019 program. This year we received a record number of applications which is very exciting but also made it difficult to choose which students will be part of our 2019 group. We are excited to announce that we have an awesome group of students this year and will be kicking off our 2019 program with a family night dinner and info session in just a few weeks!
Also, stay tuned for a post coming up soon about our amazing 2019 student coordinator Jack who was an enthusiastic member of our 2017 group of students!
A group of MERO alumni hit the rocks yesterday at the Planet Granite rock climbing gym in Belmont! This was the first time any of them had climbed, but after getting roped in they gave it their all and every one of them made it to the top on at least one route. It was really cool to see them step outside of their comfort zones and push themselves to try something new and a little bit frightening. Our favorite part was seeing the smile on each student's face when they came down after accomplishing something they didn't think they could do. Thank you Planet Granite Belmont for hosting us and making this event possible!
Marco getting roped up, climbing, and coming back down after reaching the top.
Left: Alexia nears the top of her first climb. Center: José pushes himself on a 5.11! Right: Guadalupe gives a thumbs up from the top.
Post by Ahzha McFadden
The new school year at Menlo-Atherton High School started last week. With the start of the year comes a whole lot of new faces. There are the 150 new students in my history classes, many of them new to the country and almost all of them new to the school. I can't help but wonder which ones will want to join MERO when we begin recruiting in January. There are also many old faces, past MERO students dropping in to say hi during lunch or stopping by in the morning for a granola bar if they missed breakfast. One face I'm sad, but also proud, not to have seen this year, is that of Wuendi, our first MERO student to graduate. She participated in the 2017 MERO program, and we were really excited to watch her walk at graduation last June!
With the craziness of the end of the school year we never got around to posting pictures from MERO's end of the year BBQ and awards ceremony. On one of the last days of school the MERO family gathered for one last time before summer break at Flood Park to grill up some burgers, eat lots of cake, and celebrate the accomplishments and dedication of each of our students.
Alex receives his award.
Guadalupe receives her leadership award for all of her help and hard work as our MERO student coordinator.
Katherine receives her award with a smile.
Tyler grills up some burgers for the hungry kids! The BBQ was after a long day of final exams and everyone was ready to eat and relax in the park.
Last Saturday we took our second annual trip to Monterey, CA! We started out at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which for many students was their first ever aquarium visit. Their favorite part was probably the open sea exhibit, which features a giant tank (just the viewing window measures 90 feet across!) full of sharks, tuna, ocean sun fish, and a huge school of sardines. After leaving the aquarium we stopped for a pizza lunch at the municipal beach. Despite the sub-60 degree water temperatures, some of our students just couldn't resist the urge to take a swim. After lunch, we headed out of town to the Elkhorn Slough Estuarine Preserve, where we took a wildlife watching boat tour and got to see sea otters, sea lion, seals, and birds up close and personal!
Posing for a group photo. Thank you Janet and David for helping lead the trip!
Getting to feel a bat ray's skin in one of the touch pools.
Staring out into the open sea exhibit. This tank is so big you can't see the back of it.
Spying otters and diving sea birds from the aquarium's balcony.
Looking up at a school of sardines swimming in synchrony.
Hot day but cold water!
On the boat.
Looking out at harbor seals sunning on the shore. These animals sleep all day and eat all night, which our students thought was a teenagers dream lifestyle!
Checking out their first California sea lion as we left the marina.
Welcome to El Mero Mero, 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. El Mero Mero is Spanish for "the best" or "legit", which is exactly the kind of science we do in the MERO program!