Fewer than 10 of Bullis Charter School’s 825 students came from families with incomes low enough to qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch at school in 2017, according to the state’s educational database. But for one week in August, the demographics shifted: 70 students from low-income families attended Bullis Boosters Camp at the school’s Egan Junior High campus.
The camp isn’t technically connected to the school – organizers rent the facilities from the Los Altos School District – but Bullis Charter School parents founded it six years ago as a way to give back to an underserved community and fight the summer slide.
The camp is free for participants, who engage in activities such as visiting Google Inc. and the Los Altos History Museum, attending a presentation from the San Francisco 49ers Education Foundation, baking sweets, conducting science experiments and practicing educational fundamentals including math and English.
The Bullis Boosters Club helps fund the camp, but a counselor-in-training program also helps cover the camp’s expenses, said Grace Yang, a former Bullis Charter School parent and co-founder of the camp.
The teen counselors-in-training, who are primarily not from low-income families, pay to take part in the week’s activities. Some counselors-in-training are from low-income families and receive financial aid to attend the camp. This year, 24 counselors-in-training helped run the camp, but they also participated in a service leadership program developed by Joseph Stark, the athletic director at Bullis Charter School.
Throughout the week, the counselors-in-training learned skills including how to tell their stories and how to ground themselves when they are feeling out of control. The curriculum follows a booklet created by Stark that coaches kids on five themes: vision, mindset, energy, trust and influence.
Yair Garcia, a seventh-grader at Graham Middle School, spent a week at Bullis Boosters as a camper the past five summers. This is his first year as a counselor-in-training. Yair said being a former camper has helped him connect with new campers.
“Sometimes kids are sad, or they’ve never experienced something like this,” he said. “I tell them it’s OK and it’s going to be fun, because I’ve done it before.”
Yair is not alone in being a returning visitor to the camp: approximately half of the campers return year-to-year, Yang said.
The campers rotate through different activities at the camp: On the fourth day, one group of campers learned about multiplication; one group had their hands in sticky pretzel dough; one group tested vitamin C levels in orange juice, orange soda and vitamin C pills; and a group of first-year counselors-in-training debriefed on the final night’s exercise: videoing themselves discussing their vision statement.
The camp is designed to bring kids up to speed academically, but its creators also wanted to foster a typical camp environment for kids who might not otherwise be able to afford it: They called each other by camp names (Yair’s is “Dinosaur”) and sang together each morning.
For more information, visit bullisboosterscamp.org.
This article has been updated to reflect that some counselors-in-training are from low-income families and receive financial aid to attend the camp.