Game Development Camp 

Photo: Fred Lopez

Thanks to volunteers and library staff, students in Lake County are learning computer coding in elementary school, but the goal of these camps might surprise you.

The library has always offered adventures and projects for kids. This summer, the Lady Lake Library is bumping things up a notch with a Computer Game Camp.

“When John [Pearl] and Marsha [Brinson] first came up with this idea, we took it to the city commission,” says Kristen Kollgaard, Lady Lake town manager. “We told them we’d start small, but it keeps growing.”

According to John Pearl, the town’s IT director, he and Library Director Marsha Brinson took computers no longer used in the school system and repurposed them for the library. Then they brought the idea for the camp to Kate Austin, who was teaching a code program in Mount Dora.

“Kate ran with the idea,” John says. “She is teaching middle schoolers to do game development. We need to encourage more people to do what Kate is doing. Take the skills and knowledge they used throughout their careers and volunteer to help others learn it.”

The goal of the camp is to help Lake County youth develop future job skills and learn how they can use those job skills right here in Central Florida.

“The library can make up the difference for the schools with teaching computer skills,” John says. “We need more volunteers to sign up to help with coding camp.”

Kate Austin, D.C.D., began her career as a high school math teacher and then she taught computer science and was the director of simulation and digital entertainment at the University of Baltimore. “I’m so excited about this camp. There is a whole movement to get kids to begin learning code much earlier,” Kate says. “What I’m hoping to do is get these summer camps going at all the libraries. Schoolteachers could do it. I would like to do the workshops for teachers so they could learn how to teach it.”

With the younger children, the camp will use a program created by Massachusetts Institute of Technology at Kate says kids can make their own games using this and it’s done with a building block concept. “Being able to do this is so good for the kids’ self-esteem,” she adds.

Christine Leonard home-schools her children, so they use the library frequently. “They love the computers, and we’re here every Thursday,” Christine says. “My husband is the tech person in our family so he goes over it with them while they’re learning. One of my older sons built a computer himself.”

Alexis and Alayla Leonard participate in the program at the Lady Lake Library, and Christine says they knew no one when the family moved to Lady Lake two years ago. However, through the library, they began to make friends and got to know their neighbors. “Most of the people I know, I met through the library. Nicole [LaFrancois] and Marsha are amazing. They truly care.”

Lana and Lucas Vincent are also home-schooled by their mother Cindy. “I think this is just great. It gives the kids in the community an opportunity they may not have in school,” Cindy says. “My oldest craves computer education, and we really need this. We have a great relationship with the library.”

Nicole LaFrancois is the youth program coordinator and appreciates what the library can offer residents through these computer classes. “This program started in the youth department two years ago, and we are building a love for technology in the children,” she says. “Then as teens, we introduce them to what’s available in technology in Lake County so they know they don’t have to leave the county to get a good job.”

Participants in the game camp will use the MIT app inventor online tool to develop a mobile game for Android devices and even learn to test, save, build, and disseminate apps. Computer Game Camp is scheduled for July 17-28, 1-5pm at the Lady Lake Library, 225 W. Guava St. To sign up as a student or as a volunteer, contact the library at 352.753.2957.