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'A Challenge:' New Arvada Coding Camp Stays Afloat While Navigating COVID-19 Restrictions

Stephanie Daniel
Aidan Marler, manager at Code Ninjas Arvada Minecraft camp, helps camper Marcus Wingenbach solve a coding problem.

Aidan Marler looks at a camper's laptop while reading from the screen. He's the manager at Code Ninjas Arvada Minecraft camp.

"So, you have colon, curly bracket, count…" said Marler. "I think that there just might be too many spaces in there."

Marler, a college student, is helping young campers write code as they build their own worlds in the computer game.

"Do a shift click on that," said Marler.

"There," said camper Marcus Wingenbach.

"See if that works," said Marler.

Code Ninjas is a nationwide franchise organization that teaches kids coding concepts through video games. The Arvada location offers this week-long Minecraft camp along with several others, including Java, web design and robotics.

Marie and Dan Rotter own the Arvada franchise. They opened last November with after school, drop-in classes. Now they are offering both in-person and virtual summer camps.

"Because we know, not everybody can make it in or doesn't feel comfortable coming in. We have some parents begging us to have something in the store," Marie Rotter said. "So, we felt like that's a good compromise for everybody."

Sports and day camps were allowed to open on June 1 in accordance with the state's amended "safer-at-home" order. On Monday, Gov. Jared Polis issued new guidelines for the reopening of overnight camps for kids.

Credit Stephanie Daniel / KUNC
Code Ninjas Arvada is following the state's coronavirus guidelines for sports and day camps.

Camps must follow very specific guidelines, which include social distancing of six feet and a maximum of 10 campers for indoor programs.

"Each kid is assigned a computer. They have a keyboard cover that is washable. They have a mouse pad that is washable," she said. "We wipe everything down when they're done.

Marcus Wingenbach is one of six kids in the Minecraft camp. He's eight and loves the video game. While he's been playing a lot at home with a friend, he was ready to get out of the house.

"I'm happy that I get to spend time coding and having fun," he said.

Jennifer Wingenbach, Marcus' mom, said the camp is great. "He has told us, 'I'm frustrated that we can't go anywhere," she said.

Marcus has been taking classes at Code Ninjas Arvada since January, so the family is familiar with the curriculum.

"With them offering the camps, we thought this was a really good way to get him out of the house but still be in a pretty safe environment from COVID," she said.

Credit Stephanie Daniel / KUNC
Code Ninjas is a nationwide franchise organization that teaches kids coding concepts through video games.

Marcus would normally spend his summers at another day camp with lots of outdoor activities. But with the pandemic, Jennifer was concerned about social distancing.

"Here, they can keep them socially distance. They all wear masks. They can still go outside," she said. "So, for us it was kind of the best of both worlds. He gets out a little bit but not too high-risk environment."

Marie Rotter is aware of parental concerns and it is something she takes into consideration while running Code Ninjas Arvada's summer camps.

"It's been a challenge to balance that with trying to make a profit and grow a fledgling business," she said.

The pandemic has created additional roadblocks, Rotter said. She printed 1,500 fliers to distribute in schools to advertise the camps. But then the schools were closed by the state.

"The camps are where we were planning to make most of our money for the year," she said. "So obviously that's not happening. Now we have a lot of smaller camps, we don't have as many kids enrolled."

Credit Stephanie Daniel / KUNC
Marie and Dan Rotter opened Code Ninjas Arvada last November. This is their first year offering summer camp programs.

The business also didn't qualify for a federal loan because it hasn't been open long enough. It's been challenging, she said.

"But you know, the most important thing is that we have to stay safe and we don't want kids to get sick, we don't want their parents to get sick," she said.

It is hard to predict what will happen with the coronavirus over the summer. If there's another outbreak, Rotter says, they are prepared to move all camps online. On the other hand, Code Ninjas Arvada is equipped to offer more programs is demand grows.

But that's clearly not on the mind of camper Marcus Wingenbach, who is too busy having fun at Minecraft camp.

"So, then I could make some farmland," he said.

"Nice," Marler replied. "I think that's gonna be really cool. I can't wait to see it when you're done."

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