Looking for a safe, educational, and fun activity to get your young ones out and about during the pandemic? Look no further than Bellingham Coding + Robotics Club (BCRC). The new start-up opened its doors just a few months ago — November, 2020 — and offers 1st-12th grade students the opportunity to learn coding, robotics, and other STEM-related pursuits.
For co-owner Robin Smiley, the opportunity to open Bellingham’s first kid-centered coding club was a no-brainer. After spending a chunk of her career in California as a professional event-planner, she moved up to Bellingham and was surprised to find there weren’t any local coding clubs. When the space formerly held by Cobalt Grill & Lounge opened up in downtown Fairhaven, she reached out to Steve Reed, a local mechanical and biomedical engineer, and together they launched the Bellingham Coding + Robotics Club.
The club offers an array of classes for students all ages and skill levels. BCRC utilizes a four-step development process that guides kids along their coding journey. In addition to coding, students have the opportunity to build robots, fly drones, use a 3D printer, and partake in weekly makerspace challenges — all with the help and supervision of local Western Washington University students in STEM fields.
The makerspace has a DIY vibe, with activities that encourage creativity, trial and error, and hands-on experimentation. Robin and Steve create new makerspace challenges each week. Previous activities include self-drawing contraptions, rockets, and self-propelled cars.
Starting a new business venture is always risky; doing so in a pandemic even more so. But for BCRC, the pandemic created an even greater need to get kids out of the house and into a safe environment where they could learn valuable life skills. In addition to teaching practical computer and technology skills, the club helps kids build problem-solving techniques, gain confidence, and learn how to work effectively as a team.
Until the pandemic is over, BCRC will continue to implement a 15-step plan aimed at keeping all participants safe. Rigorous cleaning, social distancing, and limited capacity — only five kids and instructors are allowed in at a time; this is ~5% of the building’s capacity — are just a few protocols to keep programming safe for all participants.
Looking ahead, Robin is excited for the future of BCRC serving as a communal space for kids to code in the greater Bellingham/Fairhaven area. She’d love to open a second location at some point, but in the meantime, she encourages those with interested students to take a look at upcoming summer camps and consider joining BCRC’s membership program. 1304 12th St., Bellingham, 360.389.5747, bellinghamcodingclub.com