Jacob Coonley gets the chance each week to build robots and control them using a computer smaller than a cell phone.
He also programs computer games, builds web pages and uses a 3D printer to create just about anything he can imagine. But, this 10-year-old isn’t a computer programmer or software engineer — yet.
Instead, he is one of about 50 students per week who attend My TEK Lab in Clermont, a lab offering children and young adults access to cutting-edge technology with guided instruction in various areas of information technology.
“We learned how to shut down each other’s computers,” Jacob said, as he smiled at his brother Robbie, 13. “Which was pretty cool.”
Run by Stephen and Jacky Souders, the technology lab has been open for about five months and is off to a great start, Stephen said. The lab serves as a “makerspace” for children, he said. There are three distinct, yet complementary, stations including “robotics,” “programming” and “create.” It allows kids to learn computer programming, create their own apps, video games and more.
Students have the opportunity to create, design and develop their own ideas using four 3D printers, too.
“We had been thinking about doing this for the past 10 years, but we had to wait for the technology to become more accessible,” he said. “It’s a lot of real-world application condensed into a child-friendly package.”
With the increased popular interest in technology and the affordable and robust equipment, the Souders finally knew the time was right earlier this year to implement their dream.
Making their dream a reality involved merging the couple’s professional backgrounds and passions, which (according to Jacky) perfectly complemented each other to make the lab a success.
Jacky has a background in teaching, with a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education from Florida Southwestern State College and more than 10 years of experience teaching children of all ages. She has worked as an early childhood teacher and managed an after school program over the span of her career.
“When the kids arrive for class, they don’t walk in — they run in,” Jacky said. “For me, that is the best.”
Stephen has a background in information technology, with a bachelor’s degree in computer information systems from Florida Gulf Coast University and a master’s degree in computer information systems from Kennesaw State University. Over the years, Stephen has worked in the web development field, managed an IT department and taught classes at Georgia Highlands College for more than six years.
“Teaching here has been the most rewarding work I have ever done,” Stephen said about his work at My TEK. “The kids can totally put themselves into the technology.”
For the Souders, seeing their students manipulate technology, like when they control a robot by using a webpage to give the commands, is 100 percent pure satisfaction.
Laura Coonley, mother of Jacob and Robbie Coonley, said she values the Souders’ apparent passion for teaching.
“The teachers are so great,” she said. “Especially the one-on-one attention they give the kids. They’re just such a wealth of knowledge.”
Becky Demmler, 15, has been interning at the lab since March and said the excitement hasn’t slowed a bit.
“I am looking forward to pretty much everything,” she said. “I’ve wanted to learn everything I can since I started getting into technology. When I get older, I think I would like to go into research and development.”
About the lab
About four students per session can attend lab, resulting in a low teacher-student ratio that allows for more one-on-one assistance.
Parents are welcome to stay and wait while kids are in the lab; the waiting area provides an educational play area for younger siblings.
Students range in age from 6 to 17; labs for adults are expected to become available soon.
Cost: Labs are $60 per month for one hour of access per week to the lab of choice or $275 for five months, in addition to an annual $35 registration fee. (The annual fee includes a My TEK Lab T-shirt).
For more information:
1795 E. State Road 50