HAPPY RETURNS: Former site tech starts first year as Sunny Hills’ computer science and coding and gaming teacher

New+computer+science+teacher+Sonya+Joyce+instructs+freshman+Adrian+Rodriguez+about+using+the+%E2%80%9Cprintln%E2%80%9D+statement+to+output+the+code+correctly+during+her+third+period+Coding+and+Gaming+class+in+Room+44+Sept.+14.

Summer Sueki

New computer science teacher Sonya Joyce instructs freshman Adrian Rodriguez about using the “println” statement to output the code correctly during her third period Coding and Gaming class in Room 44 Sept. 14.

Named Sunny Hills classified employee of the year for the 2017-2018 school year.

Nominated for the Above and Beyond Award from the Special Education Local Plan Area in 2019.

Helped guide the school’s eSports League of Legends team to two CIF titles in 2020. 

Sonya Joyce accomplished these achievements when she worked here as a site technician who offered support for students, teachers and staff experiencing computer or copy machine problems.

Despite her effectiveness on the job, Joyce made a sudden announcement of her retirement in January 2021 – nearly a year after the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March of 2020.

For the start of the 2022-2023 school year, she has returned to Sunny Hills – not in the same role as before, but as a computer science and gaming and coding teacher.

“I am so fortunate that I’m coming back to a place that I truly love,” said Joyce, who was first hired to work here during the 2017-2018. “I know and respect so many of the staff here that it almost felt like coming back to a place that I know and feel comfortable with.”

She teaches one period of Coding and Gaming, one period of Coding and Gaming 2 and three periods of Advanced Placement [AP] Computer Science Principles, taking over some of the courses that science teacher Jack Adams taught last year.

Adams has since transferred to teach chemistry at Buena Park High School.

print(“Hello World”);

Having enrolled at Gahr High School in Cerritos for three months as a sophomore, Joyce said her counselor put her into a computer science class because of limited class availability in the other electives.

Joyce said she knew she had found her programming talent when her teacher would often praise her as each code she wrote successfully began to decipher on her screen. This experience was short lived, as she transferred to Irvine High School, which did not offer any courses in this field.

It wasn’t until college when she began to revisit the computer science field that caught her interest in 10th grade.

“After I finished high school, I dabbled in everything because I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” said Joyce, who graduated from Irvine High School in 1999. “I realized I had to try computers again [in college] because that’s one thing that I felt really good and confident about in high school, but I never explored it again after that.”

The ex-site tech said she took a computer science course that focused on coding in HTML and designing web browsers at DeVry University in Long Beach.

“It really stuck with me,” she said. “I thought, ‘This was it. This makes sense.’”

CODING THAT MAKES SENSE

After graduating from DeVry University with a bachelor’s degree in computer information systems in 2010, Joyce said she landed a job at Huntington Beach Adult School in 2016 as an aide to a site technician. 

But high school students also attended some of these classes as a part of their continuation program, and so she said she found herself often assisting them.

“Working with high schoolers was more special than working with adults,” said Joyce, who worked for the Huntington Beach Union High School District until 2017. “Adults can be kind and courteous, and we’ve learned all those skills to communicate with each other, but high schoolers are still learning so much about who they are going to be, so I thought that I really wanted to be at a high school site.”

“Working with high schoolers was more special than working with adults. Adults can be kind and courteous, and we’ve learned all those skills to communicate with each other, but high schoolers are still learning so much about who they are going to be, so I thought that I really wanted to be at a high school site.””

— Sonya Joyce

Despite considering career options in the private sector such as Google or Microsoft, Joyce said she knew she wanted to continue working with teenagers. 

“I just loved being at a school site with the energy, the students and the staff,” she said. “It’s something that you don’t get from an adult, a business or an office.”

After her initial employment, the former aide said she found the opportunity to work here as a site technician through an online search portal for education jobs called EdJoin, fulfilling her desire to work at a school setting. 

In her first year at Sunny Hills, Joyce said former principal Allen Whitten then suggested that she co-advise with computer science teacher Myra Deister the campus’ eSports club.

Despite playing a role in achieving the League of Legends’ California Interscholastic Federation titles and seeing her team receive a $2,500 grant in 2020, she realized her time here would end soon. The chance to become a teacher became more prevalent for Joyce than the status quo as a site tech and eSports co-adviser, she said.

“Finding out about her departure was pretty rough mostly because she was a fantastic [co-]adviser,” said senior Cole Sass, who was a freshman in the eSports club during Joyce’s last year at Sunny Hills. “She really understood what the club needed and what the club was like.”

As a result, Joyce said she attended National University in San Diego to earn a teaching credential in business later that same year; she also obtained a master’s degree in education, with an emphasis in inspired teaching and learning in 2021.

“I realized there’s a need for computer teachers, and I know about computers,” Joyce said. “I wanted to be a teacher, and that was where I could fit.”

Her first opportunity in the education field came at Gordon H. Beatty Middle School in Buena Park, where she said she taught one period of coding and five periods of robotics to students ranging from sixth to eighth grade during the 2021-2022 school year.

By early June at the end of the spring semester, Joyce said she considered moving on again, especially after discovering from an online education job search portal called EdJoin that Sunny Hills was in need of a computer science and gaming and coding instructor.

“It just so happened that there was a position open this year [here],” she said. “I got really lucky because I was only at Beatty for one year before this position became open.”

During the time Joyce was employed as the site technician at Sunny Hills, she contributed her ideas with then-assistant principal Craig Weinreich for the production of the gaming and coding pathway. The vision for this program was delayed for a few years because of continued turnover from previous teachers, but it made its appearance as an elective class in 2020.

“The program started, but [Weinreich] had left [to Fullerton Union High School], and I left soon after,” she said. “So I didn’t know if his vision got passed onto anybody. 

“But now that we’re back, we’re really making that vision happen.”

Weinreich was among the few administrators who interviewed the new computer science teacher over the summer.

“It felt like I was talking to somebody who had already known my work ethics,” Joyce said. “And it made it feel like I was coming back home.”

IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY WILL COME

By turning the gaming and coding pathway into reality, Joyce said she hopes to open her students’ eyes to the various competition and internship opportunities in this field. 

“For students to feel that they get to be in the industry is huge,” she said. “Many of these kids love to play video games, so imagine their job was to make video games.”

Weinreich said he welcomes the opportunity to work with Joyce again to continue to build a pathway for students enrolled in gaming and coding electives. 

“She helped me with the development of [the pathway] but also helped develop our eSports lab and put together a lot of our computer systems,” the principal said. “She has the familiarity of our campus and our students.”

“She helped me with the development of [the pathway] but also helped develop our eSports lab and put together a lot of our computer systems. She has the familiarity of our campus and our students.””

— principal Craig Weinreich

After taking Joyce’s single coding class at Beatty Middle School the past school year as an eighth-grader, freshman Kenneth Lee said he chose to enroll here. Lee also signed up to take AP Computer Science Principles.

Little would he know that he would see a familiar face on the first day of school in that AP class.

“I was really surprised and happy to see her again. … She was really nice [at Beatty] and has a positive attitude that helps me learn,” said the ninth-grader, who wasn’t aware of anyone else from his former middle school who’s in any of Joyce’s classes. “I thought it would be good for me to learn more coding, since I’m still exploring what I want to pursue in the future.”

Staff members weren’t the only ones to support her as she returned on campus. Despite being coached only for the 2020-2021 school year, Sass said he looks forward to his final year at Sunny Hills with Joyce, who already signed up to be the adviser for the club. 

“[Joyce returning] is probably one of the greatest things that could happen to our club in awhile, and it’s not even an understatement,” said the gamer, who’s plays Jungle in his team. “This is going to be my last year leading this club, and I don’t think we could have ever given ourselves a better set-up than working with her.”

The senior said he recalls an unforgettable moment as a clueless freshman with Joyce when he nearly lost his email password.

“She was so calm and supportive about it that she was able to perfectly solve the issue quickly and easily,” Sass said. “If it wasn’t for her, I would have lost that email.”

Joyce said she hopes to not only build more interest and participation in the Computer Science Department, but also to make the program fun and enjoyable for her students.

“Without the students and staff, the school would just be a building,” she said. “It’s the students and staff that make it such an amazing place, and that’s why I wanted to come back.”