Education

First summer camp in Opa-locka helps local students become certified in coding

Director of PageSlayers talks about being part of the Thrive Innovation District Summer Camp Program

Dana De Greff, founder and executive director of PageSlayers, talks about being part of the Thrive Innovation District Summer Camp Program in Opa-Locka on Friday, July 28, 2017.
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Dana De Greff, founder and executive director of PageSlayers, talks about being part of the Thrive Innovation District Summer Camp Program in Opa-Locka on Friday, July 28, 2017.

For the first time, Opa-locka residents this summer were able to send their children to an art and technology camp within their own neighborhood.

The Opa-locka Community Development Corp. launched the camp for first- through 12th-graders in the city’s Thrive Innovation district, a two to three block community development hub for students, adults and families.

As a part of the Thrive initiative, the corporation has purchased and renovated abandoned buildings and lots near its headquarters to create a campus of activities and services, such as the summer camp, according to Willie Logan, the Opa-locka CDC’s president and CEO.

“These children are showing leadership and collaboration and we think that funding programs like this in communities makes the difference between kids getting in trouble and wasting the summer, versus coming out and being more prepared and more interested in learning,” Logan said.

The free six-week camp, which included breakfast, lunch, field trips and daily learning activities, was mostly funded through grants and the CDC’s real-estate business income.

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Travis Smith, 13, designed a video game called Batman vs. Joker as part of the Code Masters summer camp program. ALEXIA FODERE For the Miami Herald

Daily learning activities took place on the second floor of the Opa-locka Municipal Complex at the cross-section of Fisherman Street and Opa-locka Boulevard. In that space, children were able to engage in one of six programs, including coding for game design, development of mobile apps and videos, music creation, creative writing, engineering and dance.

Although the CDC has offered summer camps at different high schools throughout the city since 2012, none of those schools were located in Opa-locka and were not easily accessible for many families in the neighborhood. Gina Trice, an Opa-locka resident, said that this is the first summer she enrolled her child in the camp “because it was more accessible and it was in the community.”

Miami-Dade School Board member Steve Gallon said that programs such as this one have existed many years in other communities throughout Miami-Dade County, including Coral Gables, Doral and Miami Beach, and that it was about time Opa-locka children had the same opportunities at their fingertips.

He said that people had to fight to provide the children in Opa-locka with “the opportunities that other communities have.”

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Abeni Brown, 10, dances when Art + Tech Summer Camp students present their Summer Showcase at The Arc in Opa-locka, on Friday, July 28, 2017. ALEXIA FODERE For the Miami Herald

Gallon said this particular program is instrumental in closing educational gaps in math, arts, science and technology.

“Those critical areas that we value and that in many regards have been either lost or minimized in the traditional educational setting because of the high stakes of educational accountability have been illuminated through this particular summer program,” he said.

The camp instructors said that they have already seen the children expand their skill sets in remarkable ways.

For example, the game design section of the camp is sponsored by a grant that requires the children to become proficient enough to earn certification by the end of the summer, according to Logan’s wife, Lyra Logan, executive vice president and general counsel for the Florida Education Fund — through which she developed the Code Masters program that has been implemented as the mobile application and game design sections of the camp.

The certification “ensures that they have the skills in tech that can lead to jobs that usually are at least middle-class jobs,” Lyra Logan said. “Preparation for industry certification is going to be very marketable ... and help them get the jobs that they may not have been prepared for if this opportunity weren’t available.”

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Abeni Brown, 10, signs her music CD when Art + Tech Summer Camp students present their Summer Showcase at The Arc in Opa-locka, on Friday, July 28, 2017. ALEXIA FODERE For the Miami Herald

She said that the students developed various types of computer-based games and mobile apps that have sophisticated features such as text to speech, accelerometer sensors, GPS and location sensors.

“[The camp] helped me out a lot with making my own apps and in the future I should be able to make my own apps because of this program,” said Trice’s 13-year-old son, Bryaun, who participated in Code Masters. “And we had a lot of fun.”

Dana De Greff, founder and director of the creative writing section of the camp, Page Slayers, said that this kind of program makes Opa-locka residents proud of the children who grew up in the neighborhood and boosts community morale.

“We are hoping to foster the next generation of writers and the next generation of writers don’t only come from Miami Beach or Coral Gables, it’s also Opa-locka,” she said. “These kids have a lot of stories to tell and they are really talented.”

Camp enrollment was granted on a first come, first served basis and had the capacity to accept 110 students with priority given to Opa-locka residents.

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The culminating showcase took place at The Arc, a newly renovated community development center in the Opa-locka Thrive innovation district, on July 28. AYANNA RUNCIE aruncie@miamiherald.com

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