Junior Jellies Java: Welcoming New Jellies into the World of Programming 

Every Wednesday afternoon, 23 middle school students gather in room M101 and sit down at the dry-erase tables next to high school student instructors. For the next hour, the children learn basic coding concepts in a program called Junior Jellies Java, with high school mentors who have been on the robotics team for years guiding them. Run by the Blind Brook High School Computer Club, Junior Jellies Java is designed to help bridge the gap in the coding programs between the elementary school and the high school, giving middle schoolers a chance to build the basic foundation for their journeys in computer sciences. Computer Club treasurer and Junior Jellies instructor Jocelyn Zheng explains, “In the middle school, they don’t have coding classes, so we saw that and we decided to tackle that need by starting Junior Jellies Java.” The free, five-week program meets on a weekly basis from May 8 to June 5, and the students use the Java coding language to make fun games, including “Mad Libs” and “Rock, Paper, Scissors.” All of these fun experiences and activities contribute to an overall greater understanding of the computer science fundamentals. 

The course was designed around a variety of different levels, including students being split into different groups based on their coding abilities, what is known as a “staggered curriculum.” “Our instructors can teach all different levels of difficulty,” Zheng stated,“Whether that be a beginner who doesn’t know anything about Java or somebody who knows everything.” True to their word, the Computer Club has welcomed a myriad of different students, all of whom work eagerly with their mentors to sharpen their computer programming skills and work on new and exciting projects. 

In the past, the high school computer club and robotics team have run various other Junior Jellies programs, including Junior Jellies Engineering and Junior Jellies Python. However, this is the first year that the high schoolers have ever run Junior Jellies Java, and according to Computer Club co-president Ian Goldfeld, it was a program long in the making. “We made the curriculum a couple years ago,” Goldfeld recalled, “Then, a couple months ago, we were like, ‘Let’s actually do this. Let’s get to work and do this.’” He commented on how difficult it was to initiate a program that taught computer programming, adding that it required so much careful consideration and detailed planning. Yet, the final product was magnificent and extremely helpful to the future programmers. 

This program has proven to be very successful, mainly due to the efforts of the high school students and Mr. Soto, the advisor of the Computer Club. Lianne Ferentz, an instructor for the program, was a former student of Junior Jellies Python who returned to the Junior Jellies program to help teach the new generation of computer programmers. When asked about the discrepancies between the Python and Java courses, Ferentz responded, “I think Java is used more at this school, like in AP Computer Science and other computer science classes in high school.” She emphasized the importance of building a strong foundation in programming, and pointed out the various ways the skills taught in the course can help students in the future.

The interactive learning environment and fun lesson plans have enriched students’ experiences learning Java. Sixth graders Harper Hirsch and Elizabeth Grazio, both newcomers to the world of computer science, described Junior Jellies Java as “really fun.” “If you choose to do computer science when you’re older, this could come in handy,” Hirsch pointed out. Grazio agreed, adding, “Or if you work in technology for your job.”

Overall, the Java courses have offered middle schoolers a wonderful opportunity to establish their computer programming careers, and has provided an enjoyable and supportive learning environment where students can effectively cultivate and improve their skills. This has been a very successful start for the Junior Jellies Java program, and it is without a doubt that the course will continue to grow and expand far into the future.