OGDEN — In a bustling physics class at Weber State on Monday, soon-to-be eighth graders were building catapults using purple plastic cups, rulers and rubber bands.

The energy was high, and Taylor Swift was playing quietly in the background.

This group of students is part of a free summer program at Weber State called PREP (Pre-Freshmen Program). The program serves high-achieving students in math and science who’ll be entering seventh, eighth and ninth grades.

The program primarily serves students from Davis, Ogden and Weber school districts, and enrollment is about equally divided among the districts. There are a few spots available for charter school and home-schooled students.

In the program, students spend seven weeks taking a deep dive into STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math).

Carter Nemerson and Megan Pittman, who’ll be starting eighth grade at Sunset Junior High in the fall, both said their favorite class was algebraic structures, which involves a lot of classroom work.

They also like the many experiments they do as part of the program.

“My favorite part about the program is doing experiments to test things,” Pittman said.

One experiment was to see how many rubber bands around a watermelon would cause it to explode. It took this group about 20 minutes, lots of thick rubber bands and a tap on both ends of their watermelon to cause the explosion.

During a special activity called “physics day,” they built heat shields to protect an egg from a blow torch. Pittman said the groups used materials like cork and foil to build a shield a couple of inches in front of the egg — and the goal was to prevent the egg from getting any sort of scorch mark.

Dana Dellinger, director of Weber State’s Center for Technology Outreach and manager of the program, says that reaching students during their years in junior high is crucial to their future success in STEM subjects.

“(The program’s goal is) to support them through those junior high years, so we can keep the kids with the same enthusiasm and interest in math and science that they have in sixth grade through junior high and ready to go in strong to their ... high school coursework,” Dellinger said.

Sally Nakhawit, who’ll be starting eighth grade at Sand Ridge Junior High in Roy, said that participating in the program during the summer before seventh grade improved her confidence when she first started junior high.

“When I was going into seventh grade, I was really worried I wouldn’t understand things, and I would just be lost everywhere,” Nakhawit said. “And this was kind of an eye-opener to how things work.”

PREP, which concludes with a celebration and STEM Expo Thursday for students and their families, has served 191 students this summer.

Davis, Ogden, and Weber school districts pay for teachers for the program.

The program also receives funding from Weber State and several community partners, including the Sorenson Legacy Foundation, Hill Air Force Base, BAE Systems, Ray and Tye Noorda Foundation, Wadman Corporation, Northrop Grumman and Rocky Mountain Power.

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