Ex-Sunny Hills employee of year and ‘backbone’ of eSports club, site technician Sonya Joyce makes sudden announcement about her retirement in middle of school year

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ACCOLADE FILE PHOTO

Sonya Joyce (left) accepts a bouquet of flowers from head custodian Daniel Rodriguez in February of 2018 when Joyce received the most votes from the Sunny Hills staff for classified employee of the year. The 2017-2018 school year was also when Joyce was first hired as a site technician on campus in charge of servicing technology issues. Joyce retired from the position Jan. 22.

Kate Yang

For the two years she’s spent co-advising the Sunny Hills eSports team, Sonya Joyce has always reminded her team members to play with respect, dedication and confidence. 

“More than anyone, it felt like she was the one always raising our morale,” said senior top-laner Erik Lee, who has known Joyce for one year. “Win or lose, she gave us so much positivity and reminded us how important it was to stay humble.” 

Another eSports player, junior mid-laner Ryan Gae, describes her as being responsible and capable of fulfilling her role as co-adviser.

“With Ms. Joyce gone, I know I will definitely miss that feeling of security I had with her around,” Gae said. “She has been the backbone for our club and always offered us help or guidance whether she was busy or not.”     

Through a Discord message sent out on Jan. 12, Joyce, who worked as the school’s site technician for three years since August 2017, announced to her eSports students that as of Jan. 22, she will retire from her campus job, meaning she will also no longer volunteer as the eSports team co-adviser.  

“It’s with great sadness I will be leaving Sunny Hills,” the Discord message read. “I will no longer be a co-advisor for our eSports Club, and want to wish all of you the best of luck and great things in the future.”

Besides that post, Joyce offered The Accolade this additional statement: “My answer as to why I am leaving is there have been a few factors that have arisen that have forced me to re-assess my responsibilities and ability to continue to hold my position at Sunny Hills.”

Even after being recognized as a 2017-2018 classified employee of the year upon her first year of working on campus, Joyce took upon the challenge of co-advising the eSports team in 2019 when the program was in its early stages of development.    

“I remember playing the old school Nintendo and classic games like Tetris in my late teens,” Joyce said. “So when [principal Allen] Whitten recommended that I look into co-advising the eSports club, I was intrigued.” 

With computer science teacher Myra Deister as her co-adviser, Joyce was instrumental in guiding the SH team toward bringing home a California Interscholastic Federation [CIF] Championship Cup in the 2020 fall season and another CIF title over the winter break. 

When hearing of Joyce’s plan to retire, Deister considered it a step into a new adventure rather than something to be discouraged about, especially since the eSports program has reached such a wave of success — the school has reached its second year of a coding and gaming elective program and features four sSports teams for the winter season. 

“Her enthusiasm is contagious, and the students were so much more eager with her around,” Deister said. “She made advising the team so much easier, and I will always cherish the memories we made celebrating wins for each of the teams.” 

Before beginning her journey at Sunny Hills, Joyce said she worked as an aide to a site technician at Huntington Beach Adult School and felt ready to take upon the opportunity as site technician when she found the open position at Sunny Hills.

“The things I was working on as an aide were minimal compared to what I felt I was capable of,” she said. “I knew I was able to take on more challenges and the workload that comes as being a site technician, which led to begin working at Sunny Hills.”

Only six months after her initial employment in the 2017-2018 school year, Joyce was so responsive to the staffs’ technology needs that she earned the most votes for classified employee of the year. 

“I think everyone on campus could agree she was the perfect nominee,” Whitten said. “She has built personal relationships with every staff member on this campus and supports them on such a high level with issues beyond just their technological needs.” 

Later in 2019, Joyce was surprised to receive another nomination for the Above and Beyond Award from the Special Education Local Plan Area for her involvement in assisting its program on campus.

“Most technicians are not known on campuses because we do a lot of work behind the scenes,” Joyce said. “I thought I was flying under the radar most of the time but was so surprised to see that I stood out enough to receive such awards.”

Having worked with Joyce for a year and a half, assistant principal Melissa Stinson sees Joyce’s retirement as a great loss to the staff at Sunny Hills.            

“Things will never be quite the same around here without Sonya,” said Stinson, who initially made the announcement about Joyce’s decision to retire in a Jan. 6 staff email. “She has coached students through frustrating tech issues and helped reassure us all that we will survive the tech challenges that have come with this pandemic. 

“She has definitely made me laugh when I didn’t realize how much I needed to as I am sure she has done for many of you as well.”    

Her involvement with the school’s eSports program will also not be forgotten.

Sophomore jungler Cole Sass, who has been on the eSports team for almost two years, was saddened by the sudden news last month.

“Ms. Joyce is the definition of a go-getter,” Sass said. “If any of our club members need anything, she will diligently work toward  solving the issue while still keeping a kind and compassionate attitude toward the students.” 

Gae said he will continue to cherish the moments his co-adviser helped him as not only an eSports player, but an SH student.

“I remember going to pick some things up at the Lyceum in 10th grade, and she helped me with it all while keeping a bright smile on her face,” he said. “She would also stay after our matches to encourage us and lift our spirits.”   

Ms. Joyce is the definition of a go-getter. If any of our club members need anything, she will diligently work toward solving the issue while still keeping a kind and compassionate attitude toward the students.”

— Cole Sass

 

Joyce said she plans to keep track of how the eSports program fares this school year and beyond.

“The nice thing about eSports is that I can still see how awesome they are doing [via online updates] despite not being their adviser,” she said. “I love how much passion the students have for the games and am truly going to miss working with them.”

Unlike a handful of the SH staff who work from home, Joyce stayed to work on campus, so she has spent her last days at Sunny Hills with some of her fellow staff members.

“I have been able to see some of our staff as I work throughout the day,” she said. “But it will be difficult and somewhat upsetting to not see everyone I have worked with on my last day.” 

For the time being, district site technician John Mara is filling in until a permanent replacement is hired. 

Joyce hopes that the next person to fill her role will remember to work with a positive attitude. Her final words of advice?

“For the next lucky site technician, put the teachers and students first because their needs are why we are here,” she said. “Without working technology, the teachers cannot teach to their best ability, and the students cannot learn from them.

“Be patient, and people will appreciate it.”