Kim Cook Mayer: Odysssey opt-out a bad idea

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About six years ago, the high school began the process of re-evaluating graduation requirements. Numerous changes were proposed based on Board of Education and high school goals. Community focus meetings, district presentations, and regular school board updates occurred during this process. After the School Board approved the new graduation requirements, changes gradually were implemented with Senior Odyssey, a demonstration of math proficiency and the completion of additional science and English requirements affecting the class of 2005. In most cases, only Senior Odyssey and the additional English credit affected the senior-year course schedule.

Senior Odyssey did not represent an additional credit but rather became the Career & Tech credit, which has been a requirement of our high school for more than 25 years. Before the class of 2005, we only were able to offer a few courses to fulfill this credit. Through Senior Odyssey, our high school can now offer students more than 150 "special courses" because each student can choose a project in any area. Senior Odyssey is powerful because it is so individualized.

Senior Odyssey was piloted, reviewed and improved for three years before the program was implemented as a graduation requirement. The School Board was given regular updates. Last September, the Senior Odyssey Team updated the board about curriculum changes, and no concerns were voiced.

It has only been in the past few months that we were informed that the School Board had concerns. At the June 20 School Board meeting, the Senior Odyssey Team addressed specific parent concerns with fact-based data and curriculum changes. Still, one board member wanted to remove the requirement, and another board member wanted an "opt out" process for a special group of students.

The board agreed to wait until the Aug. 8 study session to thoroughly examine all of the data and implications of making a change. However, at this session, I heard no new information or evidence to support any changes. What I heard from parents were the same concerns that we already have adequately addressed. What I heard from a majority of board members was that Senior Odyssey should not have to be completed by all students and some sort of "opt out" should be made available to a select group of students.

What would be the rationale for a special group of students "opting out" of Senior Odyssey? This "opt out" possibility for some students is extremely unfair to the rest of our student body. If some students can "opt out" of the Senior Odyssey requirement, then why can't all students have this opportunity? Why can't a student "opt out" of any other graduation requirement, such as English, health, business, physics or physical education? Where will it end?

As a business professional for more than 10 years, one attraction to teaching was the ability to develop our future workers, because I saw an incredible disconnect between the system of K-12 (and a collegiate education) and productivity in the workplace. I saw young workers become disenchanted and unfulfilled in their careers. Our job as educators is to prepare our students for success and happiness in life, not just to get them accepted to a prestigious college by way of a paper application.

I have been impressed with the cutting-edge and progressive philosophy this district radiates through the Senior Odyssey requirement. Up until the past few months, I felt this district understood that students cannot hang their hat on success because of GPA, standardized test scores, or advanced placement classes.

An authentic demonstration of knowledge and skills is a way for us to feel confident that our students will become successful working adults. Participating in this process with the structure and support of the high school system, I think, should be viewed as a privilege.

I believe educators strive to do what's appropriate for all of our students, based on research, methodology and best practices. In education, facts must drive decisions, and evidence needs to support change. Making a change to the Senior Odyssey graduation requirement, after just one year, would be reactionary, would not be good practice and would be irresponsible.

Kim Cook Mayer

Senior Odyssey/CAREERS Instructor

Steamboat Springs High School

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