Our View: Vital senior projects

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The members of the class of 2005 at Steamboat Springs High School are the first to be required to complete a Senior Odyssey project to graduate.

The projects are varied. One student researched feline diabetes and published an article. One produced her own music CD. One did custom fiberglass work to build a container for a car stereo system. Another put together her own photo exhibit. One helped a fourth-grade class produce a newspaper. Another used physics to design a better snowboard park. All projects -- more than 100 of them -- will be on display from 5 to 7 p.m. today at the high school.

Some parents and School Board members have criticized the Senior Odyssey project. They question its value and argue it should not be a graduation requirement.

We disagree. If the program needs to change to be improved, then such changes should be made. But overall, we think the Senior Odyssey program enhances and helps distinguish the education offered at the high school.

At a recent School Board meeting, a parent said she thinks seniors already have enough on their plates without a required senior project to complete. She argued that mandatory programs do not have as much buy-in as voluntary ones and that students might be better served taking Advanced Placement courses. Another parent said some students put little effort into their projects while others work long hours, making the program unequal. School Board members Jeff Troeger and Pat Gleason also questioned the value of a mandatory program.

We think we should be seeking ways to raise, not lessen, the expectations placed on our students. If the senior project were voluntary, the program's mission would be significantly weakened.

The Senior Odyssey program is a yearlong undertaking for students. They begin in the fall by preparing resumes, arranging mock interviews with local employers and then conducting those interviews. They work with teachers to identify their senior projects and then arrange for mentors to assist them.

In the spring, the seniors must present their projects to a panel that includes teachers and community members.

The process is demanding, but the skills the program teaches are extremely valuable. We can't help but think students are better prepared for life after high school if, before graduation, they have prepared a resume, conducted a job interview, seen a project through from start to finish and presented that project to a community panel. And unlike Advanced Placement courses, the Senior Odyssey program has value for all students -- those who are bound for college as well as those who aren't.

We agree that not all senior projects are equal. It is inevitable that some students will put more effort into their projects than others. The same can be said of any education program. But we think all students gain something from the program.

The Steamboat Springs School District's excellent academic reputation stems in part from a willingness to implement innovative programs that set high standards for students. Senior Odyssey is just such a program. It should remain a graduation requirement.

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