On a late Tuesday afternoon earlier this month, Rachel Grilley, a fourth-grade student in the Quest program for highly capable students at Pope Elementary, sits with good posture, fully engrossed in a computer game that she created in room E-113 at Emerald Ridge High School.
Sitting at the other computer stations around her are nine other students — all boys — who are at the moment making a cacophony of unintelligible noises and talking about “boy” subjects that are all but unknown to her and that she’d rather not try to understand.
“Sometimes I hear what the boys are talking about, and I don’t know what they’re talking about,” Rachel said, adjusting her flower-design glasses.
Despite being the only girl in the room, Rachel is excited to be in the newly-offered Junior Jag Techs class at Emerald Ridge High School, an after-school program started by Emerald Ridge senior Erik Moon that teaches the basic fundamentals of gaming design to third- through sixth-graders attending Emerald Ridge feeder schools.
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“Three months ago Rachel said, ‘I want to learn about how to make a computer game,” said Rachel’s mother, Wendy Grilley, a kindergarten teacher at Edgerton.
Wendy got her daughter a how-to guide to video game design, but “it was too technical for a 10-year-old.”
“This class (at Emerald Ridge) was something she was able to follow,” Wendy said. “She was excited (to enroll in the class).”
Rachel may be the only girl taking the 4-5:30 p.m. Tuesday class, but she’s in fact one of more than five girls enrolled in the entire program, which encompasses four class offerings: two on Tuesdays, which wrapped up on Tuesday (May 12), and two on Thursdays, which will finish May 28.
Moon came up with the idea for the Junior Jag Techs classes as a fundraiser to support technology purchases for the new Tech Club at Emerald Ridge, which he founded last fall and serves as the president. Moon is also Emerald Ridge’s ASB treasurer.
But as he started teaching the elementary students, Moon soon realized that he wanted to expand the program to other schools, possibly other school districts, and add other classes such as laser engraving and 3-D printing.
Tuition for six weeks of classes in the Junior Jag Techs program is $120. Moon’s mother, Angie, president of Emerald Ridge’s Booster Club PRIDE, said scholarships are available to financially-challenged students.
To facilitate class instruction, Moon uses a drag-and-drop game design platform called Game Maker Studio.
“This is a starting line,” Moon said. “When they go into a coding class, they’ll know the basics of how it works.”
Over the six-week course, students start from scratch and from there learn about animation, how to move their characters from left to right, and fun things like enabling their “good guy” and “bad guy” characters to disappear through walls and teleport to different game levels.
For example, Rachel gave her “good guy” legs and applied the animation skills she learned to move the legs on the character and bounce it up and down.
On May 5, Moon taught the students how to create sounds. By the end of the class, students mastered making a sound for the “good guy’s” laser gun.
Many of the boys said the laser sounds reminded them of the movie “Star Wars.”
Elijah Ball, a fourth grade student at Shaw Road Elementary dressed in an Army camouflage shirt, pants and cap, named his game “Galactic Wars.”
“I’ve learned how code makes all these combinations of very complicated stuff, but it turns out to be a simple thing,” Elijah said. “My favorite part of the class is when we code.”
Many students and parents agree the best part of the class is the capability students have to download their game onto a zip drive, bring it home to share and play it to their heart’s content.
“I wanted a program that (students) could design as an app or something they could carry on an iPad,” Moon explained.
Mark Harris, a vice principal at Emerald Ridge who oversees the career and technical education programs at the school, said most CTE magnet programs across the Puyallup School District don’t typically reach all the way down into the elementary grades.
“This (Junior Jag Techs class) is a benefit to Emerald Ridge and the elementary students,” said Harris, whose son Luke, a fourth-grader at Ridgecrest, is taking the class on Thursdays.
Moon said what he is offering is an opportunity for elementary students to see what’s awaiting them when they get to Emerald Ridge.
One student who said she is for sure eager to enter the computer programming magnet program at Emerald Ridge is Rachel, nevermind if she will still be the only girl in the class.