Student Field Trip Launches Dreams

PerlaCantu.jpgA field trip experience while an Oakland Public School elementary student changed Perla Cantu’s life. Now a biology major at Mills College on an East Bay College Fund scholarship, Perla keeps her eye on the distance and reaches for the stars. As a member of Mills’ cross-country track team, she runs daily in the Oakland hills, past Chabot Space & Science Center, but she’d never been inside until Tuesday, when she assisted in a OneCal Bank sponsored field trip for three classes of 5th graders from Oakland public schools. Participating side by side with students, Perla’s engaging presence may help them launch their own college and career aspirations.
“In the Oakland neighborhood where I grew up, museum-going was not the norm. After my mother accompanied my class on a field trip to the Oakland Museum, my family went regularly to see the exhibits. We began learning about California history and being open to things we hadn’t known were available,” Perla said. “My mother didn’t speak English and no one in my family had been to college. I didn’t even know what the word meant until the 8th grade.” Though she excelled in school, it was from pressure to be a role model for her younger siblings, not to prepare for higher education.
Perla went to Oakland Public Schools for all her schooling, and remembers a science fair in 3rd grade and a science workshop in high school, but not much more. As a young student, she had heard of the Chabot Observatory, but didn’t know how to get there and, with both parents working, it never seemed possible. Her mother had fears about safety, public transit into unfamiliar areas and taking her small children on the bus.
Perla attended Metwest, a high school that her family helped to develop. While there, her principal asked her about her interests and passions. He asked what she wanted to be doing in 10 years, and his questions encouraged her to reach for her dreams. Through project-based learning, she found the way to her science major. As a tutor, she now gives back to high school students and encourages them see the big picture.
Sponsored by OneCal Bank’s Community Connects program and Chabot, the field trip was a rare opportunity for students from Oakland’s Lafayette Elementary, Lighthouse Community Charter School, and Think College Now. They also saw a movie about building a cardboard rocket and learned about space exploration in the Beyond Blastoff exhibit. They experienced hands-on activities, such as finding planets in the sky and working with a vacuum chamber. In teams of two or three, students built constructions out of toothpicks and marshmallows. Then each team shook their structure on a quake simulation device to see if the structure held or collapsed. Afterward, they ate the marshmallows.
Perla believes that everything we see and do is science. Our bodies are science. Everything around us is science. At Chabot, she had her questions ready for the students: “What are your interests? What gets you excited? What makes you happy?” Maybe these questions will help the next generation see their way into their own bright futures.