Odyssey gets seniors ready for real world

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For as long as she can remember, graduating Steamboat Springs High School senior Danni Scheer wanted to be an interior designer.

That is, until she spent much of her final high school year actually doing interior design. Thankfully, she says, she discovered her change in career interests before a year of college was wasted.

Like almost 60 of her fellow seniors, Scheer participated this year in the first major pilot of Senior Odyssey, a soon-to-be graduation requirement for Steamboat Springs High School students.

The Senior Odyssey program, which encompasses a wide range of skills-development activities, provides graduating seniors the opportunity to explore a career path of interest to them. High school college and career counselor Gayle Dudley called the program "a cutting-edge trend in the nation."

The high school approved the concept of mandatory senior projects three or four years ago when it made changes to its graduation requirements, Dudley said. Senior Odyssey will be required for the graduating class of 2005.

Under the umbrella of Senior Odyssey, students can choose to do a careers option or a senior-experience option. Regardless of the option chosen, students must take a regularly scheduled careers or senior-experience class that helps them develop career plans and application, resume and interview skills, among others. Each student must also submit a project proposal at the conclusion of the first semester, present a "Who am I?" PowerPoint presentation touching on personal attributes, skills and life goals, interview a community member who works in the field or career desired by the student, write a thesis paper, complete an individual project and present it to the community and appear before Senior Boards, teams of evaluators made up of community members, mentors and school faculty.

Though the careers and senior-experience options share many similarities, key differences exist.

Students who choose the careers option must have a weekday job or internship in a field of their choosing for the entire school year. Depending on the job or internship, students can register for one, two or three work-study periods in school. The professional with whom the student works becomes that student's mentor.

The careers option is recommended for students who want more structure -- provided through consistent, careerlike work schedules -- paid positions and more involved final projects.

Senior Jeff Fowler began his yearlong internship with Steamboat Springs Fire and Rescue on the first day of school last August. For his senior project, Fowler visited the homes of nearly three dozen senior citizens and single-parent families to check on the operational status of their smoke detectors, replacing or fixing the units when necessary. Fowler also taught residents about fire safety and carbon monoxide detectors.

Senior Odyssey is a success, Fowler said.

"I learned how to communicate better," he said. "I just learned a lot. It was great."

Fowler will attend the fire academy at Aims Community College next year.

Senior experience is generally for students who are highly self-motivated -- much of the work must be done on the student's own time -- who want more time for academic courses and have unique or difficult schedules that don't allow a work-study option.

Scheer's interior design work falls under the senior experience program.

Unlike the careers program, senior experience doesn't require a consistent work schedule throughout the school year. Rather, students such as Scheer spend large amounts of time working on their project; Scheer's was to design a guest house.

With either option, students are supposed to choose a project that is a "stretch" or challenge to the student, Dudley said. The idea is to take students away from their comfort zone and give them real-world experience in a challenging atmosphere.

Students are required to have professional mentors who work in their desired field. The mentors had to be unfamiliar with the student at the beginning of the project. Dudley said community mentor support has been "awesome."

This year's pilot will conclude with Senior Boards. Each student will appear before at least three community members, a school administrator and the student's anchor teacher. The student will present his or her project and discuss details of the yearlong experience. Each student will be evaluated on his or her proficiency as it relates to a set of Senior Odyssey standards, such as application of knowledge, demonstration of ethics, quality of performance and demonstration of problem solving.

In the end, the hopes are that each student possesses the skills necessary to be successful no matter what career path he or she travels, Dudley said.

"When we send the kids across the stage (at graduation), we want to be able to say to the community: These kids have the skills to be successful," Dudley said.

Those skills include time management, communication and dedication, Dudley said. Students who have participated in Senior Odyssey learn the value of each skill, she said.

Dozens of seniors unveiled the culmination of their hard work Thursday at Senior Odyssey's community open house, where each student stood by a project board detailing his or her work, complete with project portfolios and, in many cases, visual aids such as video footage and pictures.

Assistant principal Mike Knezevich said he was blown away by the overall quality of the work.

"I don't think it hit me until tonight the diversity of the projects," Knezevich said. "The kids really followed their passions. You can tell how proud they are."

Through the real-world experience provided by Senior Odyssey, a student's career interests can be affirmed, like Fowler's, or stifled, like Scheer's. Either way, each student comes away knowing more about their interests than when the school year began, Knezevich said.

-- To reach Brent Boyer call 871-4234

or e-mail bboyer@steamboatpilot.com

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