National Youth Leadership Forum (Envision Experience and Envision EMI) – Pricey Summer Camps of Questionable Quality?

My son was “nominated” by his 3rd-grade science teacher for what both the teacher and we thought might be a nice opportunity – a week-long summer camp that focused on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). The camp is put on by the “National Youth Leadership Forum” (or NYLF) and was called “Pathways to Stem.” The teacher let us know that they had “nominated” our son – and only our son because of his interest in the natural sciences – and then, a few weeks later, we received this really opulent package of information about the program (see scan below).

When we opened the package, we were simultaneously impressed and disturbed by the contents. There were lots of gold seals and what looked like official language and endorsements.

Shiny gold seal!

But then we saw the price for the camp and balked!

The price… and a payment plan? Why would a summer camp need a payment plan?

Yep, you’re reading that correctly: $2,195!

For a week-long camp?!?

Our son has been doing summer camps for a long time since both of us work. The most expensive summer camp he has done has cost just over $200 – for a full week (most are around ~$150 per week). Granted, that didn’t include room and board, but the tuition only option for this summer camp was still almost $1,700, which is over 8 times as much as we had ever paid for another camp.

I hate to admit that we actually spent a little time considering this as a possibility for our son as we should have immediately been more skeptical. As we thought about it, we considered that college admissions are competitive and wondered if this might be beneficial. But we both quickly realized that, as college professors, we wouldn’t care if a student had spent a week at some summer camp unless that camp had led them to do original research and publish a paper or create some world-altering invention. That… That would be an impressive camp. But what was being proposed for this camp wasn’t all that compelling (see the sample schedule in the PDF below).

Even so, as busy professionals, we didn’t really have time to look into this right away, so we kind of just sat on it for about two months until I had a free day one weekend to look into a little more. I’m glad I did.

As it turns out, the National Youth Leadership Forum (NYLF) is part of a collection of camps and programs run by a for-profit company called Envision, EMI. The link we’d been giving in all of our paperwork (see the scans below) was to NYLFpathways.com, but that redirects straight to the main Envision website: envisionexperience.com. That was a little weird.

As I googled around, I found more and more information. Yelp actually provided some good starting places based on the reviews. From there, I ended up reading this very good (and amazingly balanced yet subtly critical) article in the New York Times. That article notes that there is no empirical evidence that such summer camps do anything for: (1) improving leadership or other skills in young people (they are too short and no one has tested their efficacy), or (2) improve the odds of young people getting into competitive colleges.

The Yelp reviews also pointed me to the Wikipedia article on the company, which has a very helpful section on “criticisms” of Envision, EMI. Not surprisingly, one of the main criticisms is that the company employs slick, high-pressure marketing techniques, like requesting that parents respond within 24 hours to reserve their child’s spot. Why do I have to respond in 24 hours?

This included card makes it seem like there is a reason to make a quick decision on this camp. There isn’t.

The other Wikipedia criticisms focus on how the company doesn’t deliver on its promises of an amazing educational experience.

The Yelp reviews had largely convinced me that this wasn’t the opportunity it claimed to be. The New York Times article sealed the deal. The Wikipedia section was just icing on the cake. Our son won’t be attending the National Youth Leadership Forum: Pathways to Stem summer camp. I’d much rather take the $2,195 and buy him a 3D printer (~$1,000 and $1,000 worth of supplies) and let him design and print 3D objects all summer long. That is a much better use of our funds.

Below is a scan of all the materials sent, from the various letters to the teacher, to us, and to our son, along with the promotional and informational materials and even some scans of the envelope (the seal on which is shown above):

NOTE: Throughout this blog post, I have not used the words “scam” or “fraud” or anything like that to describe the company or the camp. That is intentional. Technically, the company is delivering “a camp experience.” That the experience is less impressive than what the company seems to suggest does not mean this is a “scam” or a “fraud.” I have been very careful with my word choices here so as to avoid a lawsuit or libel claims. I think it is safe to say that this company offers summer camps that are WAY, WAY, WAY more expensive than almost every other summer camp we have considered for our son (the one exception is astronaut camp in Birmingham, Alabama, which involves some pretty hands-on training and is still just $1,000). For instance, here is a list of available summer camps (for summer 2017) in our area. None of them come anywhere close to the cost of Envision, EMI’s camps. Again, that does not mean Envision Experience, Envision, EMI, or the National Youth Leadership Forum are a “scam.” I think it would be more accurate to describe what Envision Experience offers as very expensive, possibly under-delivering camp experiences for people who really want their kids to succeed but may not realize that there is no scientific evidence these camp experiences will help their kids succeed.

 

remove mold and mildew stains

Despite our best efforts at keeping our shower clean, we managed to get a small buildup of mildew in our shower that, by the time we cleaned it, stained the caulking.  I looked around on the internet to see if I could find any recommended products for cleaning mildew stains and mostly just found things like bleach or vinegar with a lot of scrubbing.  I tried that and it didn’t work very well – you could still see some stains in the caulk and grout.

Since I had to go to Home Depot for something else anyway, I decided to check the cleaning supplies aisle while there for products.  That’s where I found Zep Mold & Mildew Stain Remover.  It is a commercial strength stain remover.  I’m always skeptical about products as I’ve bought plenty of other products over the years that make over-stated claims.  This product, however, was relatively under-stated – it came in a nondescript blue gallon bottle and didn’t over-hype it’s claims.  And it was relatively inexpensive.  I bought it, skeptical that it would do anything, but figured it couldn’t make things worse.

On the back of the bottle it says to spray it on the stained areas and only let it sit for 2 to 3 minutes before rinsing it off.  I thought to myself, “There is no way this will have any effect in 2 to 3 minutes.”  So, I sprayed it on, thickly, and left it for a good 8 to 10 minutes.  When I went back into the bathroom, I was stunned.  Our tile, grout, and caulking were all glistening white.  I couldn’t stay in there, though, because the fumes were so bad they started to burn my eyes.  I sprayed the shower down as quickly as I could with water then left.  I came back about 10 minutes later and sprayed the shower down again.  All of the stains were gone!

Now, this isn’t exactly a miracle product – it did eat away at some of the caulking, which we ultimately had to remove, but that just speaks to the power of the product.  This is some serious stuff!

If you have mildew stains or even just mildew build up and don’t really want to expend a lot of elbow grease trying to get rid of it, give Zep Mold & Mildew Stain Remover a try.  I’m not getting paid to say this (though if Zep wants to send a check my way, I wouldn’t refuse it), but I’m recommending it highly.  If I had found out about this stuff before I spent an hour scrubbing my shower, I could have saved myself an hour scrubbing the shower and ended up with the same result.  Just be aware that this stuff is caustic and works fast – use with caution!

new recipe – spring vegetable risotto

I occasionally try new recipes, when I can find the time.  I have a pretty good repository of favorite recipes that I make regularly (you can see most of them here).  I’d say 90% of the new recipes I try don’t make it past the Debi test, meaning Debi doesn’t eat the leftovers and I know that I shouldn’t make it again.  So, when I tried this new recipe, I was skeptical, as I usually am.  But the leftovers were gone in 2 days.  Ergo, it’s a keeper:

Spring Vegetable Risotto

  • 1/2 pound sugar snap peas, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 3 1/2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 4 leeks, cleaned and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 3/4 cup white wine (or cooking wine)
  • 3 carrots, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 package firm tofu (optional for added protein)
  1. Cook peas in boiling water about 4 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain and rinse with cold water; set aside.
  2. Pour broth into a medium-size saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat; reduce heat to low and keep broth warm.
  3. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add leeks, salt and pepper (and tofu, if using tofu) and cook for 6 minutes, stirring frequently, or until softened. Stir in garlic and cook 1 minute.
  4. Add remaining 1 teaspoon olive oil in saucepan. Stir in rice and carrots and cook 1 minute. Add wine to saucepan and stir until almost evaporated, about 3 minutes. Stir in warm broth and cook for another 22-25 minutes.
  5. Add peas to saucepan and cook, stirring constantly, 2 minutes or until heated through.
  6. Remove from heat and stir in Parmesan cheese, butter, and lemon juice (you can also put the Parmesan cheese on separately after dishing up servings).
  7. Note: You’re supposed to slowly add the broth, but it didn’t seem to make a difference when I didn’t.

Spring Vegetable Risotto @ Group Recipes

how to open Google Reader links in a new tab without changing focus

If you’re a fan of Google Reader, like I am, that means it is now part of your life – something you’re not sure you could live without.  I use Google Reader pretty much every day to read the news and keep up with the blogs that I can (mostly family, some friends).  I love Google Reader.  It’s easy to use, feature-rich, and keeps track of what I have read and haven’t.  It even let’s me read my news on my cellphone (try it; it’s pretty slick).

So, while I shouldn’t complain about this awesome software, there is one thing it doesn’t do that I’ve wanted it to do for years: open links that I want to read in a new tab without changing the focus using a one-key shortcut.  See, Google Reader has lots of great shortcuts – though the only one I use all the time is ‘n’, which moves me to the next item.  When I’m reading through Google News items, I usually read all the short blurbs first, opening the ones that really interest me in new tabs to read at length later (using a right-click with my mouse and “open in new tab” options in Firefox).  Now, that’s really not that terrible, considering I’ve been doing it that way for years now.  But wouldn’t it be nice to simply hit one key and have the items you want to read at length pop up for you to read later?

Well, there is a way to do it, but it requires a few steps.  First, Google Reader doesn’t have the ability to do that, but a plugin for Firefox does: Tab Mix Plus.  So, here’s what you do:

1) Install Tab Mix Plus in Firefox.  Restart Firefox and you should have Tab Mix Plus installed.

2) Go to Tools -> Add-ons.  Click on “Extensions.”

3) Scroll down to “Tab Mix Plus” and click on “Options”.

4) A new window will pop up.  You only need to change one setting (though there are some fun goodies in there you can play with).  Click on “Events” then click on “Tab Focus.”  The only one you really need to unselect is “Links.”  Unselect it.  Then click “Apply.”

5) Once you’re done, go back to Google Reader, start reading, and when you want to open a story in a new tab in the background, hit ‘v’ and it should pop up in the background.

6) Voila!  You now have a one-key solution to breeze through your Google Reader News faster than ever.