It was 5:25 a.m. Monday morning when sixth-grader Jada Jackson woke up to catch the bus that would take her and about 20 other middle-schoolers from their Oakland homes to their summer camp at Stanford University.
Jackson is one of the 40 Bay Area students who are attending the Science in the City summer camp this year.
The week-long camp, now in its eighth year, serves students of color. The activities and experiments are designed to make science "culturally relevant" by applying academic subjects to real-life situations, such as calculating the math and studying the science behind professional athletes' jumping abilities.
Jackson said her favorite activity was the tornado-in-a-bottle experiment, in which the kids made whirlpools with two connected plastic bottles.
"We get to see what everyone else is up to and also learn different parts of STEM," referring to science, technology, engineering and math, Jackson said of her experience in the camp.
Jackson also said she enjoyed the smoke ring lab, where they covered giant buckets and left a circle opening. They filled the bucket with smoke and hit the back of it to produce smoke circles, which taught them about air pressure.
"I feel like they (Science in the City) are trying to make us versatile in multiple skills so that we're well-rounded," she said. "It's really fun."
This year's camp session began Monday and ends Friday. The camp's goals, according to organizers, have included keeping the kids active and interested in science at the start and, by week's end, building a sense of family and community.
The program is operated by co-founders Bryan Brown, an associate professor of science education at Stanford, and Kevin Nichols, president and CEO of The Social Engineering Project, Inc. The idea for the summer session came about when Brown noticed that science camps were lacking in the Oakland community.
While Nichols said he is aware of various camps already offered at Stanford, he felt they are too expensive for low-income families. According to Nichols, the average cost for summer camps held at universities in the Bay Area is between $600-$3,000.
"We just thought we could provide a low-cost alternative that would be good for everyone involved," Brown said.
Science in the City costs $350 per student and includes transportation and lunch. For families who cannot afford the full price, the camp offers a hardship scholarship that brings the price down to $50.
Brown received a grant to build and design the program, but he said he knew the work would be difficult. So he brought in Nichols to handle outreach for funding so that Brown could focus on the curriculum and logistics to ensure the camp ran smoothly.
Pauline Poe, one of the camp counselors and a student at Diablo Valley College, said she believes the program has the potential to help children in inner-city communities break away from negative trends.
"These kids have definitely proved my expectations wrong," Poe said, adding that she feels she's successfully done her job when she observes the campers engaging with the material.
"I personally enjoy what I do, especially with this program," she added.
Aside from the commute across the bay, which has been challenging for most of the kids and counselors alike, funding is the biggest issue the program faces.
The program receives funding from tech companies in Silicon Valley, such as Google, Walmart Labs, Airbnb, Microsoft and the Port of Oakland, but it's still not enough.
"We still continue to struggle with raising money for this camp," Nichols said.
According to both Nichols and Brown, the total cost for the camp is $70,000, and they are $30,000 shy of that goal.
Despite their funding struggles, Brown, Nichols and the camp staff are optimistic for the future.
"Even though it's not well-funded, I still think that we see the potential and the opportunity to still work with what we have," Poe said.
The ultimate goal for Brown and Nichols, they said, is to inspire disadvantaged kids to pursue careers in STEM so that they can be part of the policy-making and decision-making bodies that determine how technology shapes the world.
"We've had an impact where people are saying we should do this elsewhere, and I've been most proud of that," Brown said.