Fighting zombies, dodging a laser motion sensor, reciting Spanish while wearing wigs and stifling giggles — it’s all in a day’s work for the young secret agents at Double OO Spy Academy, an east end after-school and weekend program for kids, founded by Ryerson alumnus Joe Tambasco.
When his 10-year-old son Oliver wanted to be a spy, Tambasco told him he’d probably have to go to school for that.
“OK, so send me,” Oliver replied. Those words started a four-year–long process for Double OO, named after Tambasco’s sons Oliver and Oscar.
Tambasco, who took telecommunications at Ryerson in 1999, works as an X-Ray technician. Using his love of gadgets and a curriculum written by Toronto District School Board teachers, he launched Double OO in November.
Double OO is brimming with small robots and gadgets like a face-detection scanner near the entrance. Books on code-breaking line shelves, along with costumes and moustaches in a dress-up section.
Children who join the academy go on missions — assignments in manila folders stamped “TOP SECRET” — that meld educational facts, working with technology, learning languages, dramatic arts and “ninjatry,” taught by first-year business student Dimitri Waines.
To help make his dream come true, Tambasco hired actual ninjas over the summer — Waines and his brother are trained in ninpo taijutsu.
“When people hear about ninjas, they think fancy kicks and flips,” Waines said. “While you can do it, 90 per cent of the time it’s not appropriate … we give kids a place to use up their energy, get away from doing homework and experience something they’ve never thought of before.”
Balance, flexibility and exercise are emphasized in each of Waines’ lessons.
Tambasco found another instructor in Jessica Lee Fountain, a fourth-year performance production student. To the kids, she’s Agent Shadow, their disguise guide and language teacher.
Fountain never thought her program would help her teach espionage, but luckily her multimedia experience and administrative training were exactly what Double OO needed.
“I never thought that I would end up doing this when I got into performance production, but it’s a lot closer to what I want to do,” said Fountain, who’s minoring in child and youth care.
Ryerson professor Arne Kislenko has taught History of Espionage and worked as a security consultant for the Canadian government. He said he was intrigued by Double OO, but would caution it not to romanticize sinister work.
“The production of spies doesn’t come so easily … they need to be careful in how they frame this and not over-glamourize the business of intelligence,” Kislenko said.
For Tambasco, the romanticism is necessary to keep kids engaged.
“You have to to keep their interest in learning. We’re not romanticizing the fighting bits, there’s no real danger in using walkie-talkies or programming a robot,” Tambasco said. “It’s all about information-gathering and exploring.”
For now, with missions like rescuing stuffed animals in Ecuador and remote-controlled robot races, Double OO will continue running classes for kids, with plans for a party for adult aspiring agents on New Year’s Eve.