Summer camp isn’t what it used to be.
Instead of horseback riding and crafts through the local parks and recreation department, today’s hottest summer camps entail hours in front of a computer learning coding, building robots or designing video games.
The price tag can be a lot higher too.
The iD Tech summer camp at Sacramento State costs between $879 and $1,129. The weeklong day camps for children ages 7 to 17 teach game design, computer coding, robotics and how to build a laptop, among other things.
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High fees don’t seem to be a deterrent, as the classes at Sacramento State through Aug. 4 are nearly full.
Overnight camps, for ages 10 and older, include five hours a day in the lab and activities like movie and casino nights, as well as computer gaming tournaments, in the afternoon and evening, said Coray Cunningham, a spokesman for the company.
The summer camps expose students to coding at an early age and allow older students to pursue their interest, he said.
Parent Tanya Evangelista said she was surprised to learn the $1,129 tuition for the Build Your Own Laptop and Learn Coding class was for just one week.
“This should be for the whole summer,” she said, laughing.
IDTech does offer scholarships for low-income students, said Jennifer Shockley, the camp’s assistant director, although she isn’t certain how many are given.
Evangelista signed up her son, Joe Charbonneau, 9, after he started helping his dad with computer coding homework when his dad went back to college.
Many of the campers are return customers from years before. Some attend multiple camps each summer, Cunningham said. A handful sign up for the entire summer.
Coding camps are popular because they offer STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) training that is lacking in the public school system, he said.
A Sacramento Bee review of California schools last year showed that only 57,000 of the 2 million students enrolled in high school in 2015 were taking computer science, computer programming, engineering or technology courses.
State and federal labor agencies predict the U.S. will have 500,000 new computer and information technology jobs between 2016 and 2026, with 100,000 of those in California. Taking into account job departures, California likely will have 200,000 openings over that period, according to the state Economic Development Department.
Kaitlynn Sequeira, 7, will attend three weeklong iD Tech camps before the camp closes for the summer in August. She has been interested in coding since age 5, when she first started playing Minecraft – a game that has elements of coding as they play, said her mother Martha Sequeira.
Kaitlynn’s parents – both attorneys – enrolled her in the camps this summer because they weren’t able to help her with coding. “She had already exceeded what we know,” her mom said.
Martha Sequeira isn’t certain where Kaitlynn got her interest in programming, but she is happy about it. “She will be able to adapt to changes going forward as far as economic opportunity,” she said.
Sequeira says the camps are worth the high price tag, but she is sad that not all families can afford them. “It’s depressing,” she said. “Education should be affordable.”
The family hasn’t been able to find programs comparable to the iDTech program at public or private schools.
To fill that need, hundreds of private companies have popped up throughout the nation offering coding classes and summer camps with varying levels of difficulty and costs.
Campbell-based iD Tech launched in 1999 with about 100 students in its classes. This year, the summer camps are expected to draw 55,000 students to 160 camps, including one at the University of Hong Kong and one in Dubai, Cunningham said.
Locally, they also continue to pop up. Hacker Lab has opened a new summer camp in Rocklin. The camp teaches game development using Minecraft with Java programming language. The week of half-day classes start June 26, July 10 and July 31 with a $200 cost.
“It is like they are playing video games and getting a college education,” said Erick Ullrich, the owner of Hacker Lab.
The Rocklin location already is home to another coding summer camp operated by IntelliBricks, which offers robotics and Java classes for 5- to 15-year-olds. Those classes began June 12 and June 19 and cost between $155 and $240.