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Sports and STEM
San Diego Labrats is hosting its first-ever camp centering on science and sports. Courtesy photo
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San Diego Labrats’ summer camp combines STEM, sports

REGION — Many summer camps will have a different feel this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

And the San Diego Labrats’ Science and Sports summer camp is no exception. The nonprofit is hosting its first-ever camp centering on science and sports as a way to give kids from kindergarten through eighth grade an interactive, yet virtual, connection.

Ryan Merrill started SD Labrats three years ago as a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) program for kids. It’s a way to either introduce those disciplines or reinforce STEM curriculum in schools.

His brother, Jason Merrill, also volunteers with the lab and said the summer program is a new way to engage students with fun and interactive sessions. But due to the pandemic, the lab was forced into a virtual model this year, he said.

“It’s summer science and a sports academy melding STEM education and other educational pieces with sports and bringing it all together,” Jason Merrill said. “It’s also a fundraiser for local charities.”

The Science and Sports camp, meanwhile, is an opportunity for campers to engage in sports and apply the science behind it. There are three weeklong sessions to the camp, or campers can enroll of all three weeks, Jason Merrill said.

Each day has about three hours of content, although the campers are not glued to a computer monitor the whole time, he added. They will be treated to science concepts and then can go outside, or indoors, to see how those work in real life.

The cost for one week is $150 or $400 for all three. SD Labrats is also offering scholarships to cover the fees for Title 1 students who cannot afford the cost of a ticket.

Labrats was founded about three years ago by Ryan Merrill, who has a master’s in chemistry, and Shawn Carlson, who earned a doctorate in physics. Merrill said the goal for the non-profit began as an after-school program in Encinitas to bridge the gap between eighth and ninth grades.

Dubbed the “eighth-grade catastrophe,” Merrill said the interest in STEM, or STEAM (includes the arts), has a dramatic drop-off for students entering high school. So, the two founded Labrats as a way to bridge the gap through interactive labs and an engaging environment.

“Basically, when people get into high school, they start asking ‘what’s in it for me?’” Ryan Merrill said. “If you don’t have an answer to that, no one is going to pay attention to you. We’ve tried to make a program to keep kids interested from fifth grade to eighth grade … and solve that eighth-grade catastrophe problem. We don’t want their attention, we want their interest.”

Also, the two focus on how the students, who range from kindergarten through eighth, on how to properly conduct experiments using the Scientific Method. One way is through magic, which is the art of fooling an audience.

They use magic as a tool to combat bias and being fooled themselves to ensure the best results of a test or experiment, Merrill said.

“We like to describe science and the Scientific Method and not fooling yourself,” he added. “It’s really easy to fool yourself. We like to teach magic … so if you’re really good at fooling somebody, you’ll be better at not being fooled yourself.”

The summer camp will donate 80% of proceeds to the Rancho Coastal Humane Society, Studio Ace, San Diego Botanic Garden, Patrons of Encinitas Parks, Encinitas Educational Foundation and more.