Entrepreneuring students launch tech camp to keep kids speaking in code

Among texting, social media and other high-tech communication, teenagers certainly have a language of their own.

Behind such gadgets and programs, however is the more universal language of coding that enables the technology to work. It’s that language youth should be learning to speak if they want to have workplace skills that are in high demand.

Omar Villalpando, Connor Den Boer, Gavin Harlien and Zion Magitt are co-founders and teachers of Savvy Camps. The Brophy College Preparatory students offer junior high coding classes to curtail poverty and aid technology. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

By and large, they’re not learning it though. Research shows only one in four high schools teach coding and even fewer middle schools. At the same time, some 71 percent of all new “STEM” jobs — science, technology, engineering and math — are in computing.

Compare that with Phoenix’s third place ranking as the most impoverished inner-city among top metro areas nationwide. Computer illiteracy compounds the problem. Without access to STEM programming, today’s youth couldn’t fairly compete for computing jobs down the road.

“It’s such a rapidly growing field and the supply is not meeting the demand whatsoever,” said Connor Den Boer, one of four young men determined to level the coding career playing field.

They already have an action plan of how to do that. Simply put, they’re launching Savvy Camps. Its companion website is already up and running with registration ongoing. Savvy Camps provides junior high school boys — ages 11 to 14 — the chance to learn coding. It’s open to students of all socio-economic backgrounds through a 1:1 scholarship program. For every paid student who enrolls, the founders promise to find a scholarship to also register a student whose family has verified need.

Den Boer is a co-founder and camp teacher alongside Gavin Harlien and Omar Villalpando, all graduating from Brophy May 20, with Zion Magitt being a co-founder during his junior year. Launching Savvy Camps was the fruit of a yearlong business class at Brophy that focused on social entrepreneurship.

It also partnered with Seed Spot, which offers support and expertise for budding entrepreneurs. Campers will learn coding in one of nine week-long sessions at Seed Spot in Phoenix’s warehouse district. Its co-founders already envision repeating the camps next summer in Phoenix and the local communities where each of the young men will be attending college.

Savvy Camps

Open to middle school boys wanting to learn or improve his coding skills

One week sessions May 29-July 28

About the camp

Enroll or Donate

Meet the staff

Savvy Camps became not just a way to pass a class, but to live out their Jesuit school’s motto of being “Men for Others.” It also happened to, long before it went public online April 25, answer Pope Francis’ plea via a widely-viewed TED talk.

“How wonderful would it be,” the pontiff and Jesuit priest said, “if the growth of scientific and technological innovation would come along with more equality and social inclusion.”

Villalpando said the group first discussed offering scholarships at a 4:1 ratio. Then they thought, “Well, maybe that’s not making that big of an impact,” Villalpando recalled. “Coding is the language of the future.”

Anything digital has software and therefore coded language behind it, the young men said. Savvy Camps will use Codester, a kid-friendly online curriculum to teach coding, with a fair mix of personal help and feedback. The teachers are also there to create a summer camp atmosphere and champion student progress.

“It’s really hard to be a self-starter especially if you’re on summer break and you’re in middle school,” Den Boer said.

They’ve marketed Savvy Camps at their own respective middle schools and nearby St. Francis Xavier which serves students with an array of financial need. Savvy Camps simply strives to supply workers in the field to support and advance technology because just like in Scripture, the harvest is plenty but the laborers are few.