Indeed, each student wore light clothing as testimony to the temperature. A few students jostled each other in playful banter, talking about the physics lesson ahead, life outside the school, going swimming, or where friends might be hanging out when school ends.
Yet this was no ordinary summer class, and the students who came to this particular class had not come to get extra help to make up for poor marks on standardized tests. They had volunteered for a unique program that allowed them to take college classes, even though some of these students are only in the eighth grade.
All had had to meet strict guidelines to get into the class, each voluntarily giving up some of their summer vacation for eight weeks of learning tough subjects like logic, algebraic structures, probability and statistics, introduction to engineering, introduction to computer science, introduction to physics, technical writing, problem solving, research, and career awareness.
Developed by NASA
The program - conducted at the New Jersey City University - is called Proyecto Access. It is one of eight programs being conducted nationwide to help give kids a taste for mathematics and engineering sciences, and possibly put them on the road to becoming potential scientists in the future.
The program was developed by NASA in the mid-1990s and geared towards minority students to encourage their participation in mathematics.
Dr. Ellen M O'Connor said Bayonne has participated in the program for four years, with students from various schools applying to get in each summer. Earlier this year, the Bayonne School district was awarded a 2004 Exemplary Program Award from the state Department of Education for the successes the students have had over the years.
Proyecto Access is an academically intense summer program with a follow-up program set up on Saturdays in the fall. The program stressed problem-solving and abstract reasoning, teaching kids how to learn, use technology, and how to apply what they've learned in a workplace environment.
The program targets women and minorities who have traditionally not sought out careers in engineering, mathematics and science.
Although the program is open to middle school and high school students, those students must qualify as low-income, yet maintain a relatively strong academic performance of about a B average. Students must also express an interest in a possible future career in mathematics, science or engineering.
To apply, a student has to get parental approval, recommendations from two teachers, and turn in a well-written essay on why they want to attend. Mercun said that this year, about 70 students applied, of which about 30 were selected.
"They go to New Jersey City University four days a week," O'Connor said.
Bayonne is one of several Hudson County school districts involved in the program, including Jersey City, Secaucus and West New York.
According to the program organizers, graduates from this program show an improved attendance rate during regular school, and the program has allowed these students to get accepted into science and math programs.
Students attend class four days a week from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. during the summer months.
This indicates that these students have true motivation to expand their learning horizons and demonstrate outstanding dedication," said Dr. Patricia McGeehan, Bayonne schools superintendent.
Local support helps students<
Over the course of three years, students develop their own website, attend career awareness seminars, and learn first-hand on a database, spreadsheet, PowerPoint and word processing software. They can also get involved with learning chess and participate in online chess tournaments.
Students involved in the program for all three years often get involved with a high-profile project such as computer programming or even the construction of a robot.
Dr. Julio C. Guillen, director of the program at NJCU, said the program worked because all of those involved worked efficiently together. He credited the Bayonne School District with playing a vital role in the program's success.
Since the inception of Proyecto Access, the Bayonne Public Schools have been one of the most responsible, efficient and loyal administrations to work with," he said, noting that the program has also won support from the local business community.
"The number of students involved in the program has tripled since it started four years ago," said Mercun.
Bayonne has been involved with the program since June 2001, with Provident acting as the local sponsors. Funding for the program also comes from NASA and from NJCU
Thanks to a grant from Provident Savings Bank. This sponsors the Bayonne kids and pays the $350 tab for each student.
"We're extremely grateful to Provident for making this possible," she said. "We're looking to getting even more students involved, so we're looking for more ways to fund it."
Catherine M. Lazkow, vice president and the Bayonne branch manager of Provident Savings Bank, which supports the efforts of the students, said, "I have visited these students frequently each session, and I am very impressed by the quality of learning experiences that the students have."
She said the students are enthusiastic and the commitment level by students, parents, and professors is exemplary.
Not losing out on summer, students sayIn 2003, Bayonne had about 33 students involved in the program. They were able to bring their knowledge to the regular school year and apply it to more advanced projects at the yearly science fairs.
"The skills they learn may help them find productive places in the workforce, giving them advanced skills in science and engineering, two areas considered critical for the future of the country, "said Dr. McGeehan. She said that she hoped that during the fall, the students would use their knowledge to help their peers take more advanced steps in their education.
Alana Ryan, a parent with one child in the program and a teacher in the Bayonne school district, called it "a wonderful program" and was amazed at how dedicated the students were.
They are sticking to it," she said.
John Bourdett, who graduated Public School 14 last June and will be attending Bayonne High School in the fall, said this was his second year here, and said he had no problems with the idea of giving some of his time off to go to the university.
Many of the students, he said, travel by local bus to the college campus in Jersey City or are driven there by parents.
He said he liked the idea of meeting up with other kids around the county, like those from West New York.
He and other students interviewed said they make their social plans for after school, so they do not miss much in the way of summer fun.
Vishoy Samy and Mena Eskandar, both of whom attended Washington School last year, said they learned a lot about mathematics and science during their studies.
Students are expected to get involved in projects, presenting the results of research during their classroom studies. Larger projects such as writing a computer program or building a robot come later in the cycle as part of the accumulated lessons.
The students also expressed an interest in a wide range of potential careers, from doctors and pharmacists to computer programmers and electrical engineers.