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Code Ninjas providing kids a path in Westminster to video game enlightenment

Josh Schmidt and his wife Vanessa already held the distinction of being the first to take the Code Ninjas franchise into the small-market world when they opened in Hanover, Pennsylvania in 2019. Now, the game-based coding education for kids model is making its presence felt in Westminster, where the Schmidts are hoping a studio version of their business takes off.

The desire for smaller space that can still accommodate children ages 7-14 gave Schmidt the idea, he said, to convince Code Ninjas brass to branch into smaller markets, such as the new location at 909 Baltimore Blvd. The coronavirus pandemic won’t get in the way of Schmidt and his “Code Senseis” creating projects for their young ninjas to complete, with a goal of building video games from scratch.

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“My wife and I, we have three boys,” said Schmidt, 40, whose sons are 10, 8, and 3. “We were just looking for something for them to get into coding. My wife and I are both in the military ... we both work as Department of Defense contractors. We just saw the need to be technically proficient. It doesn’t matter what job or career field you’re in ... the more technically proficient you are, the better you’re going to do at your job.”

Co-Owners, Vanessa and Joshua Schmidt in the lobby of the "Dojo." Code Ninjas Learning Center had its grand opening, a place for kids ages 5-14 to learn how to build video games. Saturday, November 21, 2020.
Co-Owners, Vanessa and Joshua Schmidt in the lobby of the "Dojo." Code Ninjas Learning Center had its grand opening, a place for kids ages 5-14 to learn how to build video games. Saturday, November 21, 2020. (Jeffrey F. Bill/Carroll County Times)

Schmidt said in searching for ways to get his kids more involved, he realized learning technology-based lessons in school, or at various camps, only went so far.

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“You’re not going to learn coding by going to a camp or by doing a couple online classes here and there. It really needs to be just like a language,” Schmidt said. “It need to be immersive, it needs to be consistent.”

Schmidt said he knew he was onto something when not too long ago his own kids were inside Walmart trying to swipe across a computer screen in hopes of making it work.

“I was like, ‘That’s how tablets and phones work, but that’s not how computers work,’” Schmidt said. “Kids I think need to learn how computers work in the professional environment.”

Josh and Vanessa Schmidt started with their Code Ninjas in Hanover, and added a smaller studio in Westminster last month. The official grand opening took place Saturday, Nov. 21.

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Parents, Kids, Commissioner Dennis Frazier, Chamber of Commerce President, Mike McMullin, Chamber of Commerce Community Engagement Manager, Becky Sieck, Chamber of Commerce Ambassador, Coleen Kramer Beal, Jen Bishop, Carroll County Library, and Co-Owners, Joshua and Vanessa Schmidt and staff were on hand at the ribbon cutting of Code Ninjas Learning Center's grand opening. It's a place for kids ages 5-14 to learn how to build video games. Saturday, November 21, 2020.
Parents, Kids, Commissioner Dennis Frazier, Chamber of Commerce President, Mike McMullin, Chamber of Commerce Community Engagement Manager, Becky Sieck, Chamber of Commerce Ambassador, Coleen Kramer Beal, Jen Bishop, Carroll County Library, and Co-Owners, Joshua and Vanessa Schmidt and staff were on hand at the ribbon cutting of Code Ninjas Learning Center's grand opening. It's a place for kids ages 5-14 to learn how to build video games. Saturday, November 21, 2020. (Jeffrey F. Bill/Carroll County Times)

Schmidt’s studio has up to eight computer stations where children can learn and get help from the “Code Senseis” as they learn code and build their games. Code Ninjas uses a belt system (a set of nine color-coded wristbands) similar to martial arts ― white belts for beginners up to black belts for experts ― and Schmidt said that helps motivate and give each coder an incentive to succeed.

The curriculum is self-paced, Schmidt said, and once a project is completed the coder will be able to play their video game with family and friends.

“Honestly, by the time they get to green belt, which is about three or four belts in, they’re learning equivalent-level knowledge to what high school graduates are learning in the current computer science programs,” Schmidt said. “It really gives them a competitive edge.”

Schmidt said most of his “Code Senseis” have completed high school computer science courses, so they are prepared to teach the coders and pass on their knowledge. And that’s the key to Code Ninjas’ success, he said.

“To get them really proficient in coding and really learn the language of technology,” Schmidt said about his company’s mission. “That’s how I like to explain it to parents. We try not to push too hard. The video game elements keeps it fun. Once they complete a game, the parent gets a notification and the parent can play the game with them when they get home on the app.

“It’s good for them to see that video games don’t just appear out of nowhere. It takes people in careers and jobs to build those.”

Ryan Shifman, 14, Eldersburg, learns the mechanics of how the software works in Roblox Studio with "Code Sensei," Sean Street, 25 of Westminster. Code Ninjas Learning Center had its grand opening, a place for kids ages 5-14 to learn how to build video games. Saturday, November 21, 2020.
Ryan Shifman, 14, Eldersburg, learns the mechanics of how the software works in Roblox Studio with "Code Sensei," Sean Street, 25 of Westminster. Code Ninjas Learning Center had its grand opening, a place for kids ages 5-14 to learn how to build video games. Saturday, November 21, 2020. (Jeffrey F. Bill/Carroll County Times)

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