It’s never game over for Jeremiah Wai.
As the first coding and gaming teacher at Sunny Hills, Wai doesn’t shy away from the challenge of building a new program on a campus.
“I’ve spent most of my teaching career focused on building computer science programs at schools, but Sunny Hills is looking to offer something completely unique and fun,” he said.
Though Wai’s educational journey is extensive, his first experience with teaching computer science started at El Camino Real Charter High School in Woodland Hills.
There, Wai said he built up El Camino’s computer science program and developed a popular course called Video Game Design.
“It just took a year at El Camino Real until a lot of students started taking [Video Game Design],” said Wai, who obtained his bachelor of science degree in information and computer science from the University of California, Irvine. “I think the reason why so many students took it was because it was an introductory level where students did not have to know much about computers.”
When he got married in 2016, Wai said he decided to move back to Orange County, where he could be closer to his wife and new home.
From 2017-2019, he worked at Woodbridge High School in Irvine as a computer science teacher, increasing the computer science classes taught there from six sections to 10.
“I was most proud of the fact that I grew the AP Computer Science A classes from 70 students to 100 students, and I had a pass rate of 100% the year that I left Woodbridge High School,” Wai said.
Leaving that campus was a difficult decision for him because of all the work he had put into its growth.
But the former software developer and web developer said he couldn’t resist the opportunity that opened up at Sunny Hills.
“I found out about Sunny Hills from an online job posting,” Wai said. “When I interviewed at Sunny Hills, I found out they wanted to build a Coding and Gaming program, which I thought was a great fit since I have a lot of experience with building computer science programs and video game courses.”
For this school year, Wai teaches just one class of coding and gaming with 27 students during Period 3.
“I like how interactive the lessons are so far,” junior Eric Kim said. “We’ve learned how to make various things ranging from animated GIFs to games using a program called Game Maker.”
Though the class has a majority of boys, junior Eureka Cook has not let that affect her focus in class.
“I was always [interested in] coding since middle school so it got my attention pretty quick,” Cook said. “It could be weird sometimes being one of the few girls in the class, but I don’t really think about it much.”
Though former assistant principal Craig Weinreich was the brainchild of creating a gaming and coding pathway at Sunny Hills, Weinreich has since been transferred to work as an assistant principal at Fullerton Union High School.
Nevertheless, principal Allen Whitten said he trusts that Wai can develop the program on his own.
“Mr. Wai has outstanding coding, computer science and gaming experience and struck us as a teacher our students would like and connect with,” Whitten said.
For the first year, Wai said students are not required to have prior coding knowledge and will be taught how to make two-dimensional games and applications like Snake, Mario Kart and Tetris, a video game that Wai started playing when he was 7 years old.
“I want students to know that there’s a class teaching how to make
games, and I want to grow that program,” the teacher said. “This year, there is only one class of it, but I’m hoping there are more next year and two levels of it.”
That second level will be introduced next school year and will require the first level of Coding and Gaming as a prerequisite, Wai said. He plans to teach students how to make more complex, code-intensive three-dimensional games similar to Call of Duty.
“We want to give students the skills to code, make game art, make 3-D models, design different game levels, be creative and apply what they learn into real games they can play on smart phones and computers,” he said. “We want students to be inventors and to share their creations on a bigger platform.”
Like video games that offer various challenge levels, Wai said he’s entering a new stage of his life — being a father.
That also played a big role in his decision to come to Sunny Hills.
“It will be nice for me to be able to help out with dad duties being much closer to home,” Wai said.