Bullis Summer Camp Maker Faire

Campers craft animals out of toilet paper rolls during Bullis Summer Camp’s Maker Faire. Founded by the Bullis Charter School community, this summer the free camp spread to two locations, one in Los Altos and the other in San Jose.

Started nine years ago by a group of Bullis Charter School community members, Bullis Boosters Summer Bridge Camp underwent a leadership transfer this year.

Now called Bullis Summer Camp, the tuition-free summer program still targets under-resourced students, but it is now being managed by a group of current BCS parents and teachers. While many of the traditions and formats remain, some modifications were made this year.

The camp was historically held for one week at the end of July on campus; this year’s camp was offered twice, with one week at BCS and the other at Christopher Elementary School, a Title I school in San Jose. Mara Desmas, the new camp director and a current BCS teacher, noted how it was “nice to reach out to another community that we could support.”

The two counselor-in-training leads, both of whom have been CITs for more than four years, noted key differences between this summer and prior years. Remy Fu, a senior at Woodside Priory and 2015 BCS grad, said most of the differences were changes in curriculum.

“We’ve changed our science curriculum; we’re not focusing just on science, and the science is more incorporated into main instructional time rather than having its own kind of designated time,” Fu said. “Due to COVID, we couldn’t do any of the cooking, which we normally bake carrot muffins and pretzels.”

Ryan Yang, a senior at Crystal Springs Uplands School who also graduated from BCS in 2015, said they couldn’t take campers on a field trip this year due to the pandemic. Although they weren’t able to visit the Los Altos History Museum or have cooking activities, Yang said they “still managed to create an engaging and fun curriculum for campers mixed with art, science, English and math.”

Another addition to this year’s camp was the inclusion of FLEX periods, where each of the two lead counselors took turns leading classes. They said the goal of singing and music classes with Fu and music production classes with Yang was to give students a more well-rounded curriculum.

The camp also featured a Maker Faire, a day centered on do-it-yourself arts and crafts.

“Given the virtual nature of so many activities these days, it was nice to have some fun, in-person and hands-on activities, something which has always existed at Boosters Camp,” Yang said.

Emphasizing the human element

The switch in leadership teams isn’t the only key difference between this year’s camp and prior sessions. Organizers also welcomed middle school-aged campers in an effort to allow campers to remain in the program longer.

This year’s camp was open to younger students as well, starting with kindergartners instead of second-graders. Fu noted that the change didn’t really involve any significant programmatic adjustments, though the younger campers “definitely needed a little more support from our counselors.”

Although some portions of previous in-person camps were omitted this year, Yang said they were “able to leverage the learning from online camp in 2020 and improve many elements of the in-person camp. Now more than ever, these community programs are critical in affirming to our campers that their longtime relationships and friendships are still intact, and that people care. That human element cannot be replaced with online content.”

Despite the logistical differences, organizers said the camp’s mission remains the same: provide a fun camp experience for local underserved students while also stemming summer learning loss.

While finding donated lunches was challenging due to the economic harm the pandemic has caused local businesses, Desmas said she was grateful for the meals provided by LuLu’s Mexican Food, a contributor from the start.

Additionally, the leadership team extended its thanks to all the CITs and local residents who dedicated their time, energy and talent to the cause.

Desmas said she hopes the camp will continue to meet in person next year, and though change can be a frightening thing, organizers will do their best to adapt with every new year.

For more information, visit bullissummercamp.org.