Speakers: Give Odyssey choice


— Parents and students said Wednesday night that when it comes to the Senior Odyssey program, one size does not fit all.

At a community forum hosted by the Graduation Requirements Committee, 24 people -- including five students -- spoke about the yearlong course for Steam--boat Springs High School seniors. The majority of speakers asked committee members to consider making the course optional or to allow students with other goals, such as studying abroad or graduating early, to opt out.

"For some students, Senior Odyssey may be exactly what they need senior year, and for others, it may not," parent Brenda Rupnow said. "I would like to see this committee make options for these students."

About 40 people attended the forum in the cafeteria at Steam--boat Springs Middle School.

Although the public was encouraged to speak about several topics relating to graduation, only once was a topic other than Odyssey addressed.

High school foreign language teachers Julianne Mattimore, Tamara Lobb and Erin Moore asked the committee to not require foreign language at the high school level, because 85 percent of students already take a language, partly to meet college entrance requirements. The remaining 15 percent gain foreign language skills in earlier grades, the teachers said, and should be allowed to pursue other interests.

"Those students who are not college-bound ... take the classes to open doors to different opportunities for the future," the teachers wrote in a statement read aloud and given to the committee.

The rest of the evening was devoted to Odyssey.

Former high school Principal Dave Schmid, who said he spent close to three years preparing Odyssey requirements, spoke to the committee about the original goals of the program.

"We wanted our students to graduate not only on academic credit. We wanted them to demonstrate what they could do in the community," Schmid said. "I hope you think about the visionary spirit people had when they first worked on this."

Ann Sims, chairwoman of the requirements committee and Director of Curriculum and Instruction for the Steamboat Springs School District, read a letter of support for the program from Steamboat resident Adonna Allen.

"Regardless of a student's after-graduation plans, the whole (Odyssey) program is beneficial," the letter read, citing life skills taught by the program. "Life only gets more hectic after graduation."

Allen graduated from the high school in 1992 and is a vice president at Alpine Bank.

Kelly Labor, a senior at the high school, said although she enjoyed learning job interview tips and thinking about her future in the classroom portion of Odyssey, instruction about college applications came too late.

"I could have used that last year," she said.

Senior Katie Matteo also said that help with college interviews and applications would be better if given before senior year.

Kent Morrison's daughter is a sophomore at the high school. In comments praising intangible skills taught by Odyssey, Mor--rison asked committee members to put faith in teachers and staff.

"This faculty cares what happens to our students," he said. "Give them a desired outcome, then get the heck out of the way, and let them do it."

According to parent Tracey Epley, who has sons at the high school, the structure of Odyssey may not allow the program to be a requirement.

Epley read from a resolution by the Colorado State Board of Education, adopted in December 2000, part of which reads:

"Be it resolved that graduation shall be based on completion of study of core academies and nonacademics shall be of a voluntary nature. Vocational directions shall be exclusively the free choice of individual students."

The career-oriented Odyssey capstone project, Epley said to committee members, is an example of nonacademic, vocational work that cannot be required.

Committee members did not put much stock in the resolution. They called it vague.

"This is a one-page document written five years ago that I've never seen in my life," Strawberry Park Principal Mark MacHale said. "I don't want to spend too much time on it."

Committee member Kerry Holmquist, a parent of a middle school student, said the opinions expressed Wednesday made one thing evident in her mind.

"We would be doing a disservice to keep (Odyssey) mandatory and as it is," she said. "For future seniors, if we keep it mandatory, I think there has to be changes -- that came out loud and clear tonight."

The requirements committee will hold its final meeting Dec. 20.

At that meeting, members plan to finalize their curriculum recommendations, which will be given to Superintendent Donna Howell and the Steamboat Springs School Board.

-- To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4203 or e-mail mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com


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