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Local Column

Heimerman: Graduation requirements a complex, important issue

Christopher Heimerman
Christopher Heimerman

Girlie crawled between a couple of chairs, turned left, made her way under the table, then pulled a 180 and weaved her way around two kiddo-sized croquet mallets and a series of wickets.

It took Team Heimerman a few tries to send my girls’ Code-a-Pillar through the gauntlet, but their reaction at the end was more than worth it.

We bought the toy for the girls last Christmas, but it truly hooked them this past weekend. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a coding toy, which lets them build an electronic caterpillar, each of its segments building a sequence that tells it where to go.

There’s even a goofy music segment, which they insist on putting second-to-last, right before the repeater segment, which they crank all the way up to “5,” meaning each sequence wraps up with the same bouncy, annoying tune playing six times. I try to smile through grinding teeth because, after all, while I’m much more interested in them solving problems and working together, they deserve a quick dance party at the end, right?

I digress.

Coincidentally, the girls roped me into playing with Girlie minutes after I’d read Katie Finlon’s report on Sycamore School District 427’s discussions about high school graduation requirements.

For those of you pushing 40 like me, remember when you returned to your high school a couple of years after graduation, or when you heard tales of the new Olympic-sized pool, the shiny cutting-edge computer labs?

Let’s just say things have only picked up speed since then, in case you haven’t set foot in a high school over the past 20 years. Students – as young as kindergartners in some districts – are outfitted with their own tablets, their own district email addresses. They don’t sit in rows, but most often at tables, or sometimes even beanbags, allowing them to comfortably collaborate.

This is all awesome, in my humble opinion.

With the job market having tipped significantly toward jobs requiring not just computer literacy, but outright digital savvy and command of myriad sorts of software, it only makes sense to build computer science into the graduation requirements. It’s cool – endearing, really – that my parents have a surface-level understanding of the internet, and that my mom just learned to text. It will only get harder to survive with that skill set as the world keeps changing, however, so even if they want to be a barista, a welder, a motivational speaker or a dog-walker, millennials will need to know their way around the digital realm.

The idea has been floated in District 427 to make students take a coding course.

OK, now I’m conflicted.

They might even have to take an online course.

Did we just lose cabin pressure?

Here’s why I’m conflicted: Although most of my work is done on a computer, I still like to get ink on my fingers. My most significant work is done while doing interviews and coaching my team – face-to-face.

Look, I get it, and honestly, I fully understand what the district is considering. Any district that doesn’t at least consider a required online course is being willfully ignorant. Whether a student goes on to trade school, community college or a four-year university, they’re likely going to have to get educated online at some point. They’ll need to hold themselves accountable and be able to navigate and problem-solve.

This is why my greatest takeaway is that D-427 isn’t simply making changes off the cuff. Officials are asking students, their guardians, teachers and employers for their input.

Because my girls love that little Code-a-Pillar, and I love that they’re learning – making mistakes, fixing them and then celebrating success.

But should they have to take a coding course someday? Probably not, if it could interfere with whatever electives or core courses they’d like to take, given whatever their passion turns out to be.

The good news for me is my kids are 5. But whether your kids are kindergartners, too, or members of the Class of 2023, I hope you’re with me in realizing how important these discussion are.

• Christopher Heimerman is the editor at the Daily Chronicle. He can be reached at cheimerman@shawmedia.com.

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