UC Berkeley student-run summer camp aims to cure quarantine boredom

Berkeley Campus
Ariel Hayat/File

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Neuroscience, TikTok dance, riddles and game theory are among the courses offered at a free virtual summer camp that aims to help middle and high school students connect and find their passions during quarantine.

The program, called Connect-in-Place, serves hundreds of campers with more than 60 unique course offerings taught by campus students. Connect-in-Place stemmed from a desire to address multiple needs in the community, according to co-founder and campus rising senior Danielle Egan.

Egan added that the camp hopes to ease the COVID-19 burden on kids and teenagers who are struggling with isolation, frazzled parents who could use “one less stress in their lives” and college students with suddenly open summers due to canceled internships.

“We believe there’s room for everyone to get involved,” said program co-founder and campus rising senior Saumya Goyal. “Be it a college student, a parent who wants to get involved via speaker — if a student wants to lead some sort of program, we are so open to that.”

Classes are limited to about 10 students to foster a more intimate environment, and consist of one-hour sessions taught two to three times a week. Camp programming also includes programwide activities such as game nights, art competitions and a career panel.

To recruit teachers, Egan and Goyal reached out to every education-related club on campus. Their 10-person operations team, hired from this pool, then contacted almost 400 different middle and high schools to spread the word.

Egan and Goyal are both business students who share a background in startups and nonprofits as well as a passion for education and social enterprise.

“I really believe in the power of early education and how that really builds a social ladder,” Goyal said.

Originally titled Learn-in-Place, the program was conceived with a more instruction-based format with uncapped classes and open access. The program’s approach shifted, however, after Goyal interviewed more than 20 teachers, students and parents about what they wanted to get out of such a program. Overwhelmingly, students just wanted a “place to be online and talk,” Goyal said.

Lauren Yang, the program’s communications director, is slated to teach an Algebra 1 class for middle schoolers. Her lesson plan includes a heavy use of games, such as Kahoot and Jeopardy, as well as questions regarding the real-life applications of the material.

I am “really trying to get them to think outside the box, even though it’s just a math class,” Yang said.

Although the program is free, a $10 weekly donation is suggested in order to help organizers purchase digital infrastructure for students without access to laptops or stable Wi-Fi.

Egan recognized the inherent privilege in making access to this technology a necessity, as she said it may be a prohibiting factor for students from low-income backgrounds.

“We’re really trying to mitigate that exclusion as much as we can,” Egan said.

Contact Annika Rao at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @annikyr.