SALT LAKE CITY — While schools in Utah and across the country struggle to incorporate current and relevant tech education curricula, some private companies are seeing the gap as a window of entrepreneurial opportunity.
And while for-profit coding "boot camps" for adults have been riding a boom for several years now in response to vibrant employment opportunities for those with coding skills, a new tech education phenomena — private coding schools aimed at kids — are on the rise.
One endeavor looking to help close the gap on building computer skills for youngsters ages 7-14, albeit for a fee, is Houston-based Code Ninjas.
The company, which launched in 2016, appears to be on a turbo-charged expansion cycle with 25 current franchises in operation and another 225 in development, according to the company. Among the planned new stores are eight Utah locations, including Bountiful, Draper, Holladay, Kaysville, Lehi, Lindon, Sandy and South Jordan.
Three of those new Utah franchises will be owned by Jazmin West, a San Diego mother of three with a graduate degree in tech education. She and her husband are working on opening 33 locations in cities across the country.
Code Ninjas' curriculum was developed by company founder and CEO David Graham, who celebrated the Wests, and his company's stellar growth, in a statement.
"Partners like the Wests validate for us that there’s a massive, unmet demand across the country, and how vital it is for us to make learning to code accessible to more and more children,” Graham said. “Statistically, only about 18 percent of franchise concepts ever reach the 100-unit mark. Part of the reason Code Ninjas has been able to surpass this point so early on is our ability to combine learning with fun. This allows us to appeal to the needs of both parents and children, essentially doubling our market reach.”
Anthony Giefer, Code Ninjas' marketing director, said the company's approach is focused on giving their students useful and relevant coding skills but via a fun pathway that keeps kids engaged with the material.
"Code Ninjas teaches kids ages 7-14 to code by building their own video games in a fun, safe, and inspiring environment," Giefer said. "Everything at Code Ninjas is built around fun, but it also provides the results that parents are looking for as their children gain the coding and problem-solving skills they'll need for the jobs of the future."
The system is set up on tiers, consisting of "belts" as in martial arts training, and is self-paced, but not self-taught, according to Giefer.
"Each belt builds on the last, with 'prove yourself' challenges throughout and a capstone project at the end of each level, where kids get to show what they've learned," Giefer said. "When they reach the next belt, Code Ninjas holds 'Belt-Up' celebrations with color-coded wristbands to mark the child's accomplishments."Comment on this story
Giefer said the school's core program operates on a year-round, continuous cycle. The schools also offer summer coding camps, coding-themed birthday party events and "Parents' Night Out" programs. Each franchise creates two to three full-time jobs and 10 to 15 part-time positions. Instructors, according to the company, receive in-depth training and each must pass a national background check.
While exact program costs have not been set for Code Ninjas' Utah locations, fees will be in the ballpark of $150/month for the year-round program (two, hourlong classes a week); around $200 for the weeklong summer camps; about $200 for a birthday party for 10; and about $40 a student for the Parents' Night opportunities.