Tech camp exposes computer programming to underserved Des Moines students

Kids don’t know what they don’t know, so a Des Moines-based non-profit wants them to know about computer programming.

Tech Journey started five years ago as a non-profit organization with a mission to expose disadvantaged students to tech activities that could lead to future careers. And for the last five summers they’ve offered a tech camp at the Des Moines School District Central Academy to students entering eighth grade and in high school.

They are expecting nearly 90 kids at camp next week.

Ben Lors, President of Tech Journey, said it was co-founders David Kessler and Tony Kioko who knew students in the Des Moines School District had interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) related topics but not enough opportunities.

“We knew a lot of people who were capable of coming in and teaching kids how to do coding and get involved in STEM,” Lors says. “So we started a non-profit to do this. We just wanted kids to have the opportunity to be exposed to this.”

Tech Camp Central Academy
Students entering grades 8-12 are invited to join Tech Camp. Next week is the fifth year of Tech Camp. Phot Courtesy of Megan Bannister

Lors said the Tech Journey board came up with curriculum that local Information Technology professionals teach.

“We’ve had a great partnership with Des Moines Public out of the gate to help identify students that really met the demographics we were after,” Lors said. “Our mission is to reach the students that don’t have an opportunity to get into technology.

And because they partner with Urban Dreams to provide mentoring during the school year, they invite some of the students they mentor.

“It truly is a non-profit born out of a passion to reach these students,” Lors says. “Everybody on the board is 100 percent volunteer. We just volunteer our time to make this happen.”

Lors said year one campers (eighth graders) learn HTML, Java and Scratch programming, work with 3-D modeling software and do some audio/video editing.

“It’s a wide range of topics for those first year of students and then each grade of students then has their own track of curriculum,” Lors explained.

Older groups follow specific curriculums including robotics programming and 3-D gaming.

Students work all week and show off what they’ve learned at an open house at 1 p.m. on Friday at Central Campus in downtown Des Moines.

Lors says it’s that time that he looks forward to the most.

“When you see the student at the end of the week demoing what they’ve done, they light up in front of their parents,” Lors said. “At the beginning of the week they may have known nothing about technology or computer programming but by the end of the week they can produce something on the computer.”

But Lors says, the students also realize something far more valuable.

“They realize this is a potential career option for them,” Lors said. “This is something they are capable of doing. And I would say in general it’s not something they’ve ever considered or their parents have ever considered for them. To watch their eyes open up as far as a career and a life standpoint, is really rewarding and it’s why we do it.”

Tech Camp Central Academy
Students in the Des Moines School District going into grades 8-12 are invited to the Tech Camp. Photo courtesy of Megan Bannister

Camp goes Tuesday to Friday with campers showing up at Central Campus in downtown Des Moines around 8:30 a.m. and leaving at 4 p.m.

The Des Moines School District provides busing if kids need transportation.

Lors said volunteers are always welcome and can sign up here.