Silicon Beach: The next generation at Wynwood Maker Camp

Daniel Randolph, in headphones, and his cousin, A.J. Randolph, enjoy themselves at Wynwood Maker Camp as Kai Prol watches them from behind.
Daniel Randolph, in headphones, and his cousin, A.J. Randolph, enjoy themselves at Wynwood Maker Camp as Kai Prol watches them from behind.

You don’t need to travel far to step into another world. In fact, a headset, a pair of wireless controllers and two base stations with 360-degree motion-tracking can transfer anyone into a virtual reality digital world.

Two business partners and friends in Wynwood are teaching kids all about VR and other technology at their Wynwood Maker summer camp. The camp, which begins on June 13 and runs in two-week sessions until August, is an open format learning space for kids ages 7 to high school levels. It’s a partnership with FIU’s Honors College, and students also receive a one-month membership at Moonlighter Makerspace, a creative design workspace in Wynwood.

Willie Avendano and Nelson Milian, the company’s founders, came up with the idea for this tech camp three years ago. The purpose is to teach a younger generation and enhance their Science, Technology, Education and Math skills. The duo is aiming to lead the youth in the creation of South Florida’s Silicone Beach.

“I think what’s important to question is, how do we create citizens? People who want to give back to Miami. Miami has evolved in a certain way allowing its entrepreneurs and thinkers with an avenue to assist and grow the community. It’s a really inspiring thing,” Avendano said. “Brain drain is a big problem here where talent leaves. One of our larger overarching goals that we know won’t happen in one summer, is that they understand the value of not just growing community, but this community.”

The classes include playtime, a structured form of play on popular games like Minecraft, studio time, usually a kind of 3D model printing and learning to use the virtual reality technology.

The students work on about three to four different activities a day. Classes have an average of about 10 kids per session and students switch learning stations throughout the day to keep them focused and invested in their work. Some have even used their final assignment and portfolios for college entrance.

Three years ago when Avendano and Milian first started, eight kids had signed up. Now, they have 60. The friends are also seeking funds to expand their studio space and offer sessions to kids of underserved communities. The public has donated everything from old laptops to tables and chairs, and when they had excess furniture, the friends used computer programs to design couches.

“Right now we can’t impact the community around us because we need money to do so. People who come here can afford to come here. Even now we are way below the market price, camps like ours cost $1,000 per week,” Milian said. “But we also need teachers and people with the experience to teach this stuff. This is a passion project for us and we’re not becoming millionaires from this. We teach at different schools in the area, and we also visit the studio almost seven days a week.”

“We’ve been a part of Wynwood and a good neighbor to this community, but in this space we are also a neighbor to Overtown. We want to be a good friend to them and give them the same access here,” Avendano added.

Parents like Silvia Faidutti see the founders’ passion. Her son Elliot has been participating in the camp since its inception. This year, he’s designing a car where he will begin at the engineering part and finish at the digital printing process, where the car will come to life. For her, it’s about getting him involved in an alternative learning environment where he can choose what he wants to focus on.

“The camp is self-driven. They help them search for the things he wants to learn. I think it’s perfect for him. He’s developed his abilities further every year. This is the opposite from traditional school. Everyone develops their project,” Faidutti said. “They teach kids how to find the answers on their own. He loves it.”

Elliot’s sister is also joining for the first time this year. The 8-year-old will focus on virtual reality. Faidutti said it’s empowered her kids and given them confidence. Elliot said he likes the freedom the camp gives him to work on things he wants.

“I like to pick my projects. In school I learn what the school wants me to and what they need to teach and not necessarily things I am interested in,” the 12-year-old said. “I like the camp because it’s fun. I have a good time as I learn, and both of these come together.’’

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Miami-Dade summer camp guide for 2016

There are plenty of low-cost camp options for kids of all ages and interests:

If you go

What: Wynwood Maker Camp.

Where: 01 Studio, 219 NW 20th St., Suite 104, Miami.

When: Sessions run June 13-Aug. 19.

Cost: $450 per two-week session.

For more info click here