Pearland after-school program teaches kids computer coding with video games
At Code Ninjas, kids aren’t scolded for spending hours playing video games on computers. In fact, they’re given recognition for advancing to upper levels, and parents pay to send them to the center at least twice a week.
Recently, two elementary-aged brothers at the west Pearland learning center proudly displayed colored wristbands that signified their current level, similar to the colored-belt system in martial arts training. Connor Bellard, 10, and his brother Jake, 9, hoped to achieve their next level bracelets within weeks.
Around 4:30 p.m. that day, the lobby of the coding school, 2810 Broadway, decorated with bright primary colors, filled with other parents picking up or dropping off children for the hour-long computer programming lessons.
The school opened in March to provide a service that owner David Graham thought was lacking in the after-school market. His company teaches kids aged 7-14 computer programming code, like Java Script, through video game design. Graham said the majority of his clients don’t have experience with the language themselves but know it will be an in-demand job skill as their children enter the workforce. Graham, who has lived in Pearland for 13 years, is a former professional coder and started the business after a few years teaching adults who regularly asked if there was something like it for kids. “Our whole program takes about four years,” Graham said, of the kids’ classes, whereas the adult classes that he once taught in Pearland, were nine-week intensives geared toward those needing immediate job skills. “It’s a traditional curriculum, but they’re on their own path. It deviates because they get to build (the video game) with their own mind.“Graham, who has two sons who attend Pearland schools, said engaging children’s imagination through the process is key to getting them to stick with the lessons.
Making code instruction fun
“They come in to learn how to make video games,” he said. “But we Jedi-mind-trick them into to learning to code.”
By the end of the fourth year, he said, a child should be able to create an entire game and sell it in the Apple App store.
Having a marketable digital product for sale by age 14 may sound futuristic to some who are not tech-savvy, but the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics indicate that software developers will be in high demand. The bureau’s website projects 24 percent growth for software developers by 2026 and 30 percent growth for applications developers, who actually write programs.
The prediction is helping to drive growth of the company, too.
Graham said he’s sold 53 franchises across 26 states since 2017, including one location in Katy which is set to open Feb. 24.
The teaching at Code Ninjas takes place in the “dojo.”
The learning space takes its name from martial arts studios and is an enclosed room lined with glass windows where parents can watch their kids type away at Mac computers or tablets. The parents can’t enter without an escort.
Mona Cooper, director of the Pearland location, said the school provides the computers for use at the center inside the package price, or kids can bring their own computer or tablet.
For its after-school program, Code Ninjas picks up students at nearby Glenn York and Mary Burks Marek Elementary schools where they will spend five days a week for about two hours and parents are charged $450 a month. Less-expensive options include a drop-in program and a “Parents Night Out” on Friday nights, as well as a summer camp offering, but kids in those programs don’t necessarily progress through the various levels.
Cooper would not disclose prices for those offerings, saying parents should call the school to find the most appropriate package for them.General operating hours are from 3:30-7 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays.
For parents who want to wait on site, comfortable benches and electronic charging stations line the sitting area which faces the classroom in the lobby.
Only the teen-aged instructors, called senseis, are permitted inside the dojo to assist the kids if they have a question or get stuck in the program. Most of these teachers are a part of “Pearadox,” the Pearland High School competitive robotics team.Angelle Bellard, Conner and Jake’s mother, lives in Shadow Creek Ranch and returned to pick them up after their lesson.
She said the boys went a one-week summer camp at Code Ninjas before signing up.
“They loved it,” said Bellard.
The boys have been attending twice a week since August, she said.
“It’s one of those things where more people need to have that skill,” she said. “I like having that environment and someone there to their answer questions.”