ENCINITAS — Coding and video game design may not be the first two subjects that come to mind when the term “summer camp” is used, but those skills are exactly what some young minds in town are learning during summer break.
Throughout the season, the Encinitas Library has hosted several “technology camps” in its computer lab. The camps are one week long each and offer lessons in coding, video game design, animation and application design.
These tech camps are just some of 39 different camps the city’s Parks and Recreation Department curates throughout the summer.
The department contracts with Youth Tech Inc., a company based in the Kansas City area, to provide the tech camps’ curricula. Executive Director Kevin Suhr first founded the company out of a computer camp he put together in 2001 while teaching at North Iowa Community College.
Today, the company provides summer technology camps in 17 different states. The company has worked with the city since the library opened in 2008, and also offers camps next door in Carlsbad and in nearby Poway.
According to Suhr, the company aims to provide high quality “enrichment opportunities” through the camps while also keeping them under $200 per week.
Youth Tech hires and trains local residents to teach the camps, something Suhr said wouldn’t be possible without the internet, another tech creation. According to Recreation Supervisor Ken Rundle, many of those camp instructors are local teachers who are working for the camp during summer break.
Though based several states away, the company uses BuildFire, a mobile application design platform based in San Diego, to teach its campers how to create mobile apps.
“We also try to formulate classes around anything kids have an interest in,” Suhr said.
The company has incorporated one such interest, Roblox, into their courses. Roblox is a massive, multiplayer online and game creation platform on which users can design their own games and play games made by others.
There is also growing interest in robotics. Suhr said he hopes to introduce two robotics courses in Encinitas next year.
According to Senior Citizen Manager Christie Goodsell, the tech campers are developing skills that they can use later on as adults.
“As kids get older, it can help them in the workforce later in life,” she said.
Suhr called the lessons campers can learn in his tech camps “real life skills” in a society where “technology is at the center of everything.”
“Eventually they’re going to have jobs that haven’t been created yet,” Suhr said. “They’ll be innovators … reinventing the world.”
The tech camps also help students learn to build friendships — or in some cases, business partnerships.
“We didn’t anticipate students networking with each other,” Suhr said, recalling two campers who met at a tech camp and later started a web design business together.
Suhr noted that technology is a tool that can both connect and isolate people.
“Tech has the ability to bring us together and to separate us,” he said. “We’re hoping to bridge the gap by providing opportunities to bring kids together but also teach them to look up from their phones.”
Photo Caption: Tech campers working in the Encinitas Library computer lab. Photo courtesy Encinitas Parks and Recreation Department
Samantha Nelson covers Oceanside, Camp Pendleton and the decommissioning San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. She earned her journalism degree from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, and has previously reported for The Athens Messenger in Athens, Ohio, and USA Today in McLean, Virginia. Follow her on Twitter: @samm1son