Two local dads are on a mission to teach kids about coding, design-thinking and entrepreneurship. Their new learning center is called Yukōdit, and its goal is to equip children of all ages and abilities with the technical and collaborative skills to succeed in their futures. After moving from London to Montclair with his wife and twin girls, Mike Halbert, who leads development teams in the investment banking industry, was surprised to learn that most states, including New Jersey, had not yet incorporated computer science into the learning standards that drive curriculum decisions in our public schools.
“Given the array of tech start-ups coming out of places like New York and Silicon Valley, I came back to the U.S. thinking that our education system would be much further along in addressing this need,” says Halbert.
In 2014 he teamed up with another parent, Jamie Pagliaro, who has spent his entire career working in education, including a school he started for kids with autism in East Harlem, and an educational technology company that now supports school districts nationwide in implementing inclusive educational practices.
When Pagliaro began researching, he quickly learned that computer science jobs are among the fastest growing in our economy, and there is already a major shortage in talent. “Working at an edtech company, I see first-hand the challenges with finding and retaining developers. But when I also found out that girls and students of color were much less likely to enroll in computer science classes at both the high school and college level, and are grossly underrepresented in the job market, I knew this was a problem I wanted to tackle,” says Pagliaro.
While the two say that initiatives like Hour of Code, launched by Code.org, a national nonprofit back by several tech moguls including Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, are a good start, Halbert and Pagliaro believe there is still a lack of state standards guiding schools to adopt computer science as part of their ongoing curriculum, and not enough trained educators to teach the subject.
Yukōdit offers a fresh take on introducing kids to coding. As opposed to a class or boot-camp that promises to teach kids to code over a few short sessions, Yukōdit places kids on a path where they learn not only the technical side of computer programming, but also design-thinking and entrepreneurship skills that rely heavily on collaboration and expose kids to the entire product development life-cycle. Each 90-minute session at Yukōdit begins in the center’s “Basecamp”, which is set up as a computer lab. There kids work at an individualized pace on learning to code, with the center leveraging a variety of best-in class curriculum resources.
The second half of each session has kids moving into another space, “The Zone,” which looks more like a Silicon Valley tech start-up office than a classroom, where kids work on innovative design projects and are encouraged to brainstorm their own unique projects. Tech-savvy staff members then guide the kids to think through and plan their ideas, solicit feedback from others, and begin building working prototypes.
According to the two dads, response to the program has been very positive: “Montclair is a community where people value creativity and innovation. As parents, we all want to give our kids an advantage and prepare them for the future, and that’s exactly what Yukōdit offers.”
The Yukōdit Learning Center is based in St. James Church of Upper Montclair (581 Valley Road). Registration is open now for summer and fall sessions. To learn more visit: https://yukodit.com