Senior Odyssey discussed

Parents, students voice concerns with program

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Conflicting reviews on the Senior Odyssey program were given to the Steamboat Springs School Board on Monday night.

Steamboat Springs High School staff presented results from a survey of students, in which 84 percent of seniors rated the senior project as very valuable or somewhat valuable.

But students and parents crowded the room with the message that the program should not be a graduation requirement.

Trevor Elliott, who just graduated from SSHS, said he wouldn't have taken the class if given the option.

"It was a waste," Elliott said.

Blair Nathan, an upcoming senior at SSHS, said he planned to graduate as a junior but could not because of the requirement.

"It prevented me from having any way, any possibility of graduating my junior year, which would've been nice because I could have gotten out and done something," Nathan said.

The School Board agreed to revisit the Senior Odyssey program again in August, when more results from surveys to parents and community members will be available. This is the first year the program, which involves a career class and a senior project, was a graduation requirement.

Board member Pat Gleason said he would like to see an opt-out procedure, through which some students would not have to take the requirement.

Board member Jeff Troeger agreed and said he did not think it was too late to get such a procedure in place for the coming school year. The issue was one the School Board could not put off, he said.

"I think we better start listening to what people are saying," Troeger said.

It would be too late to change graduation requirements for the coming school year, School Board members agreed.

Retiring SSHS principal Dave Schmid said the program, which took seven years to put in place, was good for the community and school.

Kim Mayer, careers and Senior Odyssey teacher, described what she called misconceptions about the program. One was the fear that the requirement prevented students from taking AP courses, which is not supported by data.

Mayer also presented numbers suggesting that the requirement does not increase the course load for AP students, does provide time for college applications, has value and allows students to choose their projects.

Mayer listed some suggested improvements, which were reached after discussion with parents and others a few weeks earlier. Those included improving communication with parents, providing more choice in the first semester class, and creating an advisory committee to help improve the program further.

"We want this to be a good experience for the seniors," Mayer said. "It is not to be a poor experience for the seniors."

Parent Pam Brenner said she was glad that changes were being made to the program but that she thought more were needed, as evidenced by student comments.

Parent Sheryl Pierson said she thought the SSHS's report on the program was biased and filtered. She said her daughter, Alyssa Pierson, has a schedule loaded with AP and upper-level classes and will have to take Senior Odyssey on top of it. Colleges with which Alyssa already has interviewed are not concerned about a senior project, she said.

Alyssa said the program does, in fact, interfere with taking AP classes.

Parent Michael O'Hara said he though the program sounded good and did not want to criticize it. But, he supported having some alternatives for students to opt out.

O'Hara said his son, who will be a senior and who his dad said gets good grades taking tough classes, had to pass up a chance to be a Rotary Exchange student because doing such an exchange would not let him fulfill the Senior Odyssey requirement.

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