Annual Math & Science Camp

Mills Middle School holds a Math and Science camp annually where the school takes around 80 students on a camping trip to the coast, just south of Santa Cruz. They sleep in tents and live in the outdoors for four days. Activities begin every morning at 6:30 a.m. and do not end until 11:00 p.m. each night. The camp teaches kids how to break out of their comfort zones, to be innovative, creative, and passionate. It also encourages a sense of community and reaching out to peers.

The first night on the beach is amazing as each of the small groups that are formed begins to make bonds of friendship. Campers crack open one thousand glow sticks that the groups wear to glow-in-the-dark and march down to the beach. Last year Mark Arnez, an 8th grade math teacher who chaperones the camp, saw a student crying. “I asked if she was okay. She told me she had never been to the ocean before. The experience was overwhelming (full moon, waves crashing, big sandy beach, pure magic!).”

Attendance is invitation only. Each student receives a personal invitation due to a demonstration of some attribute of outstanding character.

“Our vision is to provide the Math-Science Camp experience to students who make positive choices to overcome personal obstacles or affect those around them in some positive way,” says Mark Arnez.

All students at the school are encouraged to attend. Failing students who choose to attend interventions to raise their grades are invited. Honor students who embrace struggling students to tutor them are as well.

This year there were 80 people at the camp, including volunteers and family members. This was made possible by an amazing group of volunteers led by Rancho Cordova City Councilmember Ken Cooley (who is currently running for a seat in the California State Assembly). Mr. Cooley has a passion for helping kids experience the outdoors in a camping environment. His staff of volunteers completely ran the camp and all the food and meals. They even kept a 24-hour safety watch going to make sure the kids were safe.

Among the volunteers attending were a head supervising nurse from Kaiser Hospital, the supervisor of SMUD’s employee campground, the Rancho Cordova Citizen of the Year, a California State bridge inspector, a professional artist and several parents. This group of volunteers allows the teachers to focus on the kids and the activities.

The Rancho Cordova City Council also donated $2,000 to Mills Middle School in support of this Math-Science Camp. The school has been lucky enough to receive strong support from the local community.

Here is a Brief Outline of Activities at the Camp:

  • Tide Marking – using line levels and tide tables to measure, predict and see what high and low tide means
  • Solar Ovens – an innovative cardboard oven that can reach temperatures in excess of 300 f. Students build an oven and bake a fruit cobbler pie.
  • Height of Flag Pole – a historic Rancho Cordova Flag is erected for students to predict the height using a line-of-sight 45-degree triangle and geometry.
  • Egg Drop – Sacramento County Bridge Inspector Ray Miller erects a huge tripod that releases a bag with its cargo plus egg from 30 feet.
  • Sand Drawings – San Francisco artist Elizabeth Symington shows students how to make complex designs in the sand of enormous proportions (40 foot by 40 foot drawings)
  • Squid Dissection – Santa Cruz High School teacher Rachel Miller shows students how to dissect a squid, pull the spine, and then write in their journals from the squids ink sack.
  • Tower Challenge – students use a bag of raw spaghetti and a bag of marshmallows. They are left to their wits to create the tallest structure.
  • Horse Sculpture – modeled after artist Deborah Butterfield students forage the wilderness and their surroundings to construct statue of a horse – very creative.
  • A Camera Scavenger Hunt – crazy fun and a huge team building opportunity
  • Skits – funny and ending with a moral.
  • Moon/Star watch ending with a blindfolded night hike. Major trust involved.
  • Sand Castles, football on the beach, creative games of tag
  • Rock Notes – you rock, students write encouraging notes to their new found friends.
  • Journal Writing – daily writing in their camp journals about the day’s activities
  • Group photo – getting 50 people in a tree is not easy

For more information about this trip and when Mills Middle School will have it again, please contact Mark Arnez at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

By Steven Colson,
Public Relations Intern