Campbell students star in documentary about summer coding camp, space station experiment

CAMPBELL, Calif. (KGO) -- Learning to code can be challenging, so one can imagine the pressure on a group of South Bay 10-year-olds who were competing to code a robot to work in zero gravity in Summer 2020.

ABC7 is shining the spotlight on three Campbell students whose journey is captured in a new documentary called "Zero Gravity," premiering at the Cinequest film festival on Saturday.

When filmmaker Thomas Verrette started shooting this documentary on STEM education, he had no idea where it would lead.

All he knew was that a group of middle school students were taking a seven-week summer program to learn coding.

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"And it's going to take every single one of you to make sure that our code is one of the best in the nation," says teacher Tanner Marcoida in the film.

The group's task was to compete with other teams in the coding program to operate small satellites from the International Space Station in zero gravity.

"I just was curious what the world looks like, from a student that's 10 or 11, who's coding satellites in space," says Verrette. "It's just of kind an amazing idea really."

What the filmmaker captured in that Campbell classroom most prominently was curiosity, determination and teamwork.

"We were just like sixth graders, fifth graders, and we learned how to do that. We did that. I find it cool," said Adrien Engelder, one of the coding camp students in the film.

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The camp took place four years ago, but the participants are still in awe that they got to see an astronaut test their code for use at the International Space Station.

"There was the astronaut in the ISS. He was holding the camera, and then they were showing like the robot doing everything, and that was really cool," said Advik Gonugunta, another student featured in the documentary.

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"The film is about inspiration," says Verrette. "It's about where we get it from and how we pass it down, and also how it can unite us to do kind of amazing things."

We reunited three of the 14 students on Zoom with their teacher, who says the documentary captures something special.

"I love its ability to make everybody cry," says Marcoida. "And just the excitement in these three... their faces and their stories really make learning come alive."

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It is everyone's hope that their dreams come true.

"Hey, I actually did that," said student Carol Gonzalez. "It's not just like some random dream that happened, that I made up. It was like it was actual reality that ended up happening."

The documentary Zero Gravity premieres online at Cinequest this weekend.

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