Wednesday, June 15, 2005

The Goldies Send A Kid To Computer Camp

In my yesterday’s post, I mentioned that, two years ago, we sent I12 to a pricey computer camp, and that I had a thread on my Russian forum somewhere that I used to log our experiences. Well this must be my lucky day… I found the thread! If you can read Russian, go over there and have fun. If you cannot read Russian, then call your parents and chew them out for not having hired a bilingual nanny when you were little. Then, continue reading this post. I’ll try to retell the story the best I can.

So, here’s how it happened. Two years ago, I12 was, in his usual manner, causing problems in school and generally being bored and miserable, and his gifted program coordinator recommended that we sent him to the National Computer Camp. When I saw the price on that thing, I just about fainted. But, we applied for a scholarship from OAGC, and we actually got the scholarship. They can only give up to $250 to any given child; they gave us $200. It was awesome! Although, there was still $1400 left to pay. That was for two weeks.

Our decision to send I12 to the camp that was very obviously out of our price range, was for several reasons. First of all, I wanted I12 to meet kids with interests similar to his that were his intellectual peers, and hopefully continue being friends with them after the camp was over. Secondly, I12 had a serious interest in programming (and still has), and I wanted him to get some basic, structured knowledge around it – a foundation that he could later build upon. Sure, Mr. Goldie and I could teach him all those things, but we’re not really professional teachers, and besides, I thought he’d learn better in a group setting. And, finally, I had some happy memories of my own. When I was in my teens, I went to a math camp for three summers in a row (and later worked there for two more summers), and that was a lot of fun! I made many friends there, had a great time, and wanted I12 to have the same experiences.

The camp, like I said, ran for two weeks, six days a week, from 4PM to 9PM on Sundays, from 9AM to 9PM Monday through Thursday, and from 9AM to 4PM on Fridays. The kids had four hours of programming lessons every day. After that, they stayed in the lab and played computer games. Technically, they could go outside, play sports, go for a swim, but no one did. There were about thirty kids in all, mostly teens, 13-15 years old. I12 was one of the youngest at ten, although few kids suspected it, as he looks older than his age. Half of the kids were from out of town, and stayed at the camp. Only two or three out of thirty were girls.

Here are the chronicles of our stay at the camp, as recorded in my forum thread.

Day One - Dropped I12 off, and went to the pool with his brother. Almost forgot that I had a kid in camp. Remembered at 9PM, and raced to the camp to pick him up. I12 didn’t want to leave as he was playing with other campers over the LAN. Took me thirty minutes to get him out the door. Met the counselors – an older man and a group of college students. One of the counselors was drop-dead gorgeous. Is it wrong to say this about a guy who’s half my age?

Day Two - I12 isn’t eating anything. Brought most of his packed dinner (we had paid for him to eat lunch at camp) and pocket money back home. We bought a soda from the vending machine as we left at 9:30. Had to drive around the neighborhood for a while, as K9 is not allowed to have soda, so I12 had to drink it all up and destroy the evidence. He told me about their day – learning C++, pair programming, gameplay, and a Halflife tournament in the evening.

Asked the counselors how the programming lessons were going. Was surprised to discover that the kids were learning C++ - isn’t it, like, obsolete? Besides, we had been promised Javascript and Web development. The head counselor (older man) said that C++ was a better way for them to learn the basics.

I noticed a huge blackboard in the corner with the “Ten NCC Commandments” written on it – things like “Thou shalt not run”, “Thou shalt not fight”, “Thou shalt not swear or use GOTO”. Pretty neat.

Day Three - One of the moms started a conversation with me. Her son had a week’s break between two sleep-away camps, so they sent him to NCC to kill the time. For $800? When my kids have to kill the time, they usually do it for free, or for $60/week in our city camp. This is so out of my league. The mom said that her son was loving the camp, because “they play on the computer all day here, and that is so cool”. He can come to my house and play on the computer all day anytime. I will only charge $750.

I12 started making new friends; in his own words, “we met when I killed them”. Turned out, the kiddos were playing Warcraft together. I12 could only tell me their screen names, but not the real ones. Brought all of his packed dinner back home. In response to my questioning stare, replied, “At dinner, we were discussing what would be the best way to kill Saddam, it was pretty gross, so I couldn’t eat”.

Counselors are trying to make sure kids get some physical exercise. Twice a day, they shut the computers down and kick all the kids out of the lab. The kids stand outside and talk for about ten minutes, then go back in. This is the physical exercise. Very impressive.

Day Five – Open House, First Week’s Awards - took off work so I could come to the Open House. It consisted of the kids sitting around playing, paying no attention to their parents, and the parents wandering around the lab like some lost souls. I found a free PC and posted on my forum for a little bit. I12’s friend came over and talked to me. The friend was 14. He didn’t understand why I12 was sometimes immature. Because he is ten years old?? But I couldn’t say that. It’s our little secret.

I12’s friend said that he admires our generation because, “you guys were able to learn programming when it was at such a basic level, with hardly any tools available, and then bring it up to today’s advanced level”. I had never felt so proud in my life.

I also got to talk to the cool counselor, who was going to college to be a graphics designer.

Day Seven – new week has started. I met a new mom. Her son was 13, and that was his third year in NCC. We talked about future plans. I said that I hadn’t decided yet whether to send I12 again next year, because it was difficult for us financially, and I was not sure that he was getting enough for the money, to which the other mom said, “As long as he enjoys it here, I’m happy”. In the middle of our conversation, I12 walked up to me, saying that he had been promoted to a Java class. All of a sudden my new friend got worried, called her son over, and told him to find out if he was in a Java class, and, if not, then to find out why not.

Day Nine – The lab is starting to seriously stink. Thirty teenage boys sitting in a room without windows for ten days, twelve hours a day, can be a real biohazard. On top of the BO, there are leftovers from the vending-machine foods and drinks scattered all over the lab.

Day Eleven – Mysteriously, the lab does not stink anymore. When I pointed it out to the head counselor, he told me, “We have added a new commandment”. The new commandment went something like this, “Thou shalt not wear yesterday’s clothes”.

In a conversation that followed, the head counselor told me that he was a high school math teacher, and that he had not written a line of code in six years. This is the man that’s in charge of teaching the kids programming at this $800-per-week programming camp. I took special care to nod and smile.

Day Thirteen And Last – I12 got an award for academic excellence! Yay! He wants to go next year, can we afford it?

Day Two-Hundred and Eighty-Fifth – In the middle of a heated argument with Mr. Goldie where I maintained that I12 had to go to NCC again, I12 walked in and said, “I don’t really wanna go”. Case closed.

So this has been our experience. Will we send him there again? No. Will we send his brother? I highly doubt it. Did we do the right thing sending I12 there in the first place? I think we did, and I will tell you why in the next installment.

The Goldie has spoken at 4:46 PM

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