New EV

Huy Tao teaches a lesson about simple machines at iCode, where kids can learn STEM skills like coding, programming drones and robotics, and digital arts. (David Minton/Staff Photographer)

It’s not a secret that the jobs of the future are going to require a heavy dose of science, technology, engineering and math education.

“We have to keep producing more career technical education, more STEM, STEM, STEM, STEM, STEM, STEM,” Chris Camacho, the executive director of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, told Chandler City Council in January. “That is critical for our state’s competitive position.”

A new after-school business has opened up to help.

iCode held its grand opening in Chandler on Feb. 4, with other schools planned in Gilbert, Scottsdale and Goodyear.

iCode started in 2015 and began offering franchises in 2018. Five years later, it has about 70 locations and the Chandler school is the first in Arizona.

“It’s meant to supplement, not take the place of, the regular school,” said Misty Ellis, who owns both the Chandler and Gilbert locations with her husband, Daniel.

“What we provide here is something that most schools don’t provide. It’s education, but really with the technology. We do a huge focus on soft skills.”

Misty, whose husband works in cybersecurity, said they wanted to own their own business and started shopping around for franchise opportunities.

“When he saw the iCode curriculum, he was like, ‘This is it. This is what I want to do,’” she said.

That curriculum is the main drawing card.

The school hires college students who are finishing up their STEM degrees as instructors. Ellis said her instructors have said they wish they would have had an iCode school when they were young.

The couple hopes to open up their Gilbert school by the end of February with a grand opening there likely happening in March.

iCode offers programs for students from kindergarten through senior year of high school, separating the programs by using the martial arts belt system. A white belt is for robotics; yellow, app development; orange, web development; red, game development; green for drones, blue for networking and black for cloud computing.

The key to making this succeed, Ellis said, is that the students have to want to learn. So iCode makes the programs fun so they look forward to coming to class.

“This makes it fun, it makes it engaging,” Ellis said. “And the kids have a great time. We really focus on soft skills problem solving. They are always learning how to give presentations and to share what they’re learning.

So they’re not just sitting in front of a computer, they’re learning how to write code.”

iCode has a number of options. Most regular classes meet for two hours once a week though there also is an option with two one-hour classes. In addition, it provides special camps during the summer and breaks in the usual school-year schedule.

Ellis said they would also like to partner with local schools, running an event at their campus at no charge to give parents a chance to know about their program and see what the program offers.

She said so far, they’ve had more luck partnering with charter schools than they have with public school districts.

The most popular hub at iCode, Ellis said, is the gaming hub. She and her husband choose games specifically for the education value, such as Minecraft and Roblox.

“We don’t just set a kid in front of Minecraft and say, ‘oh, have fun,’” she explained. “We teach them how to modify it, how to do mods, how to change different things in the game.

“Then we can teach them how to create their own games. So just it’s a really great supplement to what they would get at school.”

Ellis said the goal of the program is to give students a solid STEM foundation by making learning fun.

“They really work hard to make it engaging, because we don’t want any kid coming in and sitting here and just being like, ‘Oh, I hate this, like, my dad’s making me do this, because he’s a computer science guy,’” she said.

“We want it to be fun, and very hands on. So, you know, we added a lot of hands-on activities.”

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