ALAMEDA -- The inspirational voices of the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir will be heard Jan. 25 at Alameda's Kofman Auditorium in a benefit "Seedlings" concert for Ruby Bridges Elementary School's fifth-grade science camp in March.

A Kenyan drum-and-dance ensemble and the school's fifth-grade choir will also perform.

"Among the numbers the school choir will perform is 'Hero' by Mariah Carey," said music teacher Alison Hart. "I chose this song because I want the students to have the sense that we can all be heroes, that there is always hope, even in the face of discouragement."

Now in its sixth year, the three-day, two-night science camp at Mission Springs Outdoor Education Center in the Santa Cruz Mountains gives Ruby Bridges' students -- some for the first time -- the chance to explore nature and the outdoors and discover science in a completely new way.

Faith Network of the East Bay, a collaboration of congregations and organizations founded in 2001, sponsors the science camp as well as other practical help for East Bay children and families.

School Principal Jan Goodman said she's grateful to the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir and Faith Network for creating the opportunity for her students to enjoy science camp before they graduate and move on to middle school.


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"We couldn't go to science camp if it weren't for the efforts of the Faith Network, which has mobilized so many community resources to create the village that is necessary to send students to the camp," Goodman said.

She said most of her school families simply can't afford the $280 that it takes to send a student to the camp. In total, the school needs to raise about $18,000 for the trip.

"About 70 percent of our families are at poverty level," Goodman said. "Ten percent of families live on Alameda Point Collaborative, which has one of the highest concentrations of poverty in the Bay Area, according to the Brookings Institution."

Ruby Bridges' fifth-grade teacher Heather Figueroa chaperones students each year and also sings with the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir.

"I love the fact that the choir is involved," Figueroa said. "I see its racial, faith and socio-economic diversity as an adult reflection of our own school. That this world-famous choir donates its time free of charge for our students means the world to me."

Figueroa said being out in the silence and beauty of nature (no cellphones allowed) is very healing for a lot of students.

"When kids go to the camp, their attitudes change," Figueroa said. "Some students who aren't academically successful shine when they're at camp. They challenge themselves and work together -- whether it's hiking in rainy weather, studying the ecosystem, picking up banana slugs or scaling a 40-foot climbing wall."

Ruby Bridges -- for whom the school is named -- is flying in from her home in New Orleans to address the audience at the Jan. 25 concert.

"I think science camp is extremely important because it allows all our fifth-grade students to come together and bond together," Bridges said. "That's really what my work is all about -- bringing kids together."

In 1960, Bridges became the first African-American child to attend the all-white William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans. She is now the chairwoman of the Ruby Bridges Foundation, which promotes "the values of tolerance, respect and appreciation of all differences."

"The mission of the Ruby Bridges Foundation is to create educational opportunities like science camp that allow children from different racial, cultural and socio-economic backgrounds to build lasting relationships," Bridges said. "This will allow individuals to transcend their differences and achieve racial reconciliation."

Meilani Martin, 12, is now a seventh-grader at the Academy of Alameda. She went to science camp in her last year at Ruby Bridges Elementary School and has never forgotten the experience.

"The cabin rooms were the best, and the food was really amazing and nutritious," Martin said. "I remember being outside a lot, studying the stream and the tadpoles and looking at rocks with our leader -- that was really messy but fun."

Martin learned about the ecosystem of streams and forests -- and got up close and personal with a big yellow banana slug, when she opted to join the Banana Slug Club by letting the slug crawl on her nose.

The students even got a lesson in not wasting food.

"We had a food waste competition between groups of students to see which group could waste the least amount of food," Martin said.

The middle-schooler thinks science camp is beneficial in many ways.

"It's good for a child to experience begin away from home, learning new things about the woods, overcoming fears, and supporting and encouraging the other kids," Martin said.

Bridges agreed.

"I so appreciate that the entire community is coming together to support such a life-changing experience for these children," she said. "We start with the kids first, and the kids will pass it on to the adults. That's why I'm joining the Bay Area community to support and attend this fundraiser for science camp."

if you go
What: "Seedlings," the annual benefit concert for Ruby Bridges Elementary School's fifth-grade science camp
When: 7 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 25
Where: Kofman Auditorium, 2200 Central Ave., Alameda
Cost: $15
Tickets: At Ruby Bridges school office (510-748-4006), via email from teacher Heather Figueroa (hfigueroa@alameda.k12.ca.us) or at the door.