Gauge rising for H.S. grads


— A three-year process to review high school graduation requirements is coming to a close but, even as teachers and administrators praise the program for its vision, many students are skeptical of some of its implications.

In order to graduate from Steamboat Springs High School in the class of 2005, students will have to demonstrate their proficiency in a number of different subjects and undertake a year-long senior project, said the school's principal.

The high school is proposing new graduation requirements, meant in part to decrease "seat time" and make sure students leave the school with a proven record of knowledge.

High school principal Dave Schmid said the process grew out of curriculum discussions in the Ten Plus Two Committee, which was organized to help the district figure out how it would grow.

"We asked ourselves, 'What do we want our students to leave our school with, and what can we be accountable for?'" Schmid said.

Likely the most drastic change comes in the form of the mandatory senior project, which would go into effect along with the other requirements beginning with next year's incoming freshman class. The project would last one semester and would be preceded by a senior seminar to teach students about the job market.

The senior project would allow students to find a creative way to pursue their most compelling interest, possibly in a work environment, Schmid said.

Currently, career-based learning occurs in a class called "careers," in which students undertake a year-long project in a field of their interest, sometimes getting paid in the process. Careers will still be offered as an alternative to the senior project.

Schmid said that students could fulfill the careers requirement in a number of ways, including putting on a performance or a show or working with an organization or business.

Currently, students in the careers program are involved in projects like working at an architectural firm and shadowing a doctor at the hospital.

The required project would be evaluated based on a number of criteria, including a written component, an oral presentation and a demonstration or product the student created in the process of completing the project.

The project would also include mentorships with people from the community who could guide the students in their first forays into a field.

Andrew Litzau, a high school senior on the school's curriculum committee, said the student body's response to the idea of making the project a requirement has been generally negative.

"For the most part, the students are against requiring the senior project," Litzau said.

Litzau said he has fielded comments from students both formally (in forums) and informally during the process. He said much of the resistance to the idea of the senior project may have to do with a lack of understanding.

"They don't have the details worked out in front of them, which is part of the reason that it's facing opposition," Litzau said. "It's the idea that they don't like."

Litzau himself is involved in a career-oriented project this year, working at Pisa's Pizza and Pasta restaurant. Litzau said he has learned a great deal in his job, but that he would have to wait until he has moved on a little to decide how worthwhile was the experience.

The new requirements were drawn up by teachers from each department in the school and finalized in meetings with the administration and with parents.

Schmid is now going around to different groups, such as the Steamboat School Board, attempting to gather feedback about the proposals.

Beyond the senior project, many of the departments have increased accountability measures, while, in some departments, decreasing the amount of time students have to spend taking remedial classes they may not need, Schmid said.

For instance, the math requirement has dropped from two credits to one and a half, though the high school has dropped many of its more remedial classes, making incoming math students take more advanced classes than in the past. In addition, students will be made to take a math proficiency exam in order to graduate.

"The reason is that the kids really need to take ownership of their own learning," said math teacher Carole Buelter. "We feel that by illustrating this with an exit exam, we will feel confident giving diplomas to students that meet the Colorado content standards."

Schmid said he hopes to finalize the requirements by Feb. 15.


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