Many of the criticisms of Senior Odyssey expressed by Steamboat Springs High School students and parents are not based on facts, two teachers involved in the Odyssey program said Friday.
"The fact is that it's a good course," said Kim Mayer, who teaches the Careers class that is part of the Odyssey program. "Sixty percent of seniors took this course to fulfill their requirements before it was mandatory."
Her comments came a day after about 150 students walked out of school and left campus to protest the program, a yearlong combination of class and project work required for graduation.
Senior Odyssey is designed to help students develop life skills such as decision-making, career planning, self-awareness and -- if they choose, teachers say -- college preparedness.
But students in Thursday's walkout said Odyssey is too focused on college success, favors students driven toward higher education, takes time away from other academic endeavors such as Advanced Placement classes, is repetitive and should not be mandatory for seniors.
Mayer and fellow teacher Marty Lamansky, who teaches the Senior Experience class, addressed those criticisms Friday. Seniors can take either Careers or Senior Experience as part of the Odyssey program.
Mayer said she was astounded that some students, quoted in Thursday's Steamboat Today, think higher grades in Odyssey are given to students who identify college as part of their post-high school plan, and that students who do not discuss college are marked down.
"We promise our students, over and over again, that you are not being evaluated on anything but your ability to articulate your plan," Mayer said, stressing that students are encouraged to develop any life plan they like as part of the Odyssey program, as long as that plan is well thought out. "We have had no students come to us to discuss their marks. Why didn't they come to teachers first?"
Mayer and Lamansky used compiled data and the school's class schedule to refute student claims that Odyssey prevents students from taking AP classes.
"The number of seniors taking one or more AP classes has gone up 12 percent since Odyssey became a requirement," Mayer said. "If a student chose to, they could take all the AP classes offered this year, and Senior Odyssey, and still be at the minimum required class load for seniors. There is no way that (Odyssey) would keep a student from taking an AP course."
Mayer and Lamansky said they have worked with numerous students to accommodate their schedules.
"This year we are offering Senior Experience every hour (of the class schedule), so students can fit it in," Lamansky said. "It has nothing to do with they can't take (AP classes) because of Senior Experience. It has to do with they don't want to take a full load of classes."
The high school offers AP classes in French, Spanish, English, calculus, biology and U.S. history. AP chemistry is offered every other year, meaning current seniors had a chance to take it last year as juniors, Mayer said. She added that "it is a very rare student" who will take all those classes, especially the two foreign languages.
Lamansky said Senior Odyssey also doesn't have to prevent students from graduating early. Several students are graduating at the end of the fall semester, he said.
"We met with those students at the end of their junior year and got their senior project rolling right away," he said. Those students were allowed to "double up" this fall to fulfill their typically yearlong Odyssey and senior English requirements.
Mayer and Lamansky ack--nowledged that statements made by students after the walkout represent grievances that need to be addressed, especially in the area of unbalanced grading in the Odyssey program.
"If students feel that, that is what occurred, we have to find out why that perception is there," Mayer said, adding that "there is no course at our high school that has been under the microscope as much as this one."
Lamansky said the constant examination of Odyssey and students' displeasure with it may result from the nature of the program.
"This is not a traditional class," he said. "And because it's not, those students who have learned how to play the game of school are a little bit frustrated, because it's not about pencil-and-paper tests. We're asking them to go outside of the box and out of their comfort zones, which they will be doing for the rest of their lives."
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