Surveys about Steamboat Springs High School's Senior Odyssey program show that many students found the program worthwhile, at least after completing it.
Conducted last spring, the surveys questioned community evaluators, mentors, school staff, parents and students about the effectiveness of Senior Odyssey, a yearlong requirement for high school seniors that focuses on life skills, decision-making, college preparation and career planning.
The program is in its second year as a graduation requirement and has sparked debate since its inception.
On Nov. 10, about 150 students, mostly seniors, walked out of the high school in the middle of morning classes to express frustration with Odyssey. Students that day said the program was repetitive, too focused on college preparation, an ineffective use of time and should not be mandatory.
Students surveyed after completing the program last year, however, took a different tone. Of the 109 seniors polled, 50 percent rated the Senior Project, usually completed in the spring as a culmination of the Odyssey program, as "very valuable." Thirty-four percent rated the project as "somewhat valuable," meaning 92 students viewed the program positively.
Last year, 133 seniors fulfilled the Odyssey requirement.
Fifty-six percent of the 109 polled said the influence of the community mentor who helped them with their project was also "very valuable."
Thirty-eight percent of those students rated the classroom portion of Odyssey, completed in the first semester of senior year, as "somewhat valuable." Twelve percent, or 13 students, said the classroom time was "quite worthless." No student gave that rating to the Senior Project, according to the survey.
Kim Mayer, who teaches a Careers course as part of the high school's Odyssey program, said the surveys were given to students late last May, two weeks after they presented their completed projects in front of school staff, community evaluators and, in some cases, family members and project mentors.
Mayer said that although the 50 percent and 56 percent approval figures are "outstanding," she expected higher support.
"I'm disappointed with that number, because what I got from most students was that the project was very valuable," she said. Her students completed a poll in her classroom the day after their presentations, Mayer said, and on that day 85 percent rated the Senior Project as "very valuable."
The surveys are part of the Senior Odyssey Preliminary Program Evaluation, created last month by members of the Graduation Requirements Committee. That committee has been reviewing curriculum proposals and all manners of academic data since September and aims to recommend changes -- or no changes -- to the School Board in January. The Odyssey program is one of numerous issues the committee is addressing.
In the surveys, the harshest critiques came from parents. Although 53 percent of the 43 parents surveyed said Odyssey was valuable for their children, 57 percent said it was unlikely their children would have participated in Odyssey if it was not a requirement.
"Too much time away from her studies -- very stressful and expensive," one parent wrote in comments included with the survey.
"Make it a one-semester course," wrote another.
A third parent wrote: "I personally think the project was very worthwhile. Maybe it would be better if the career development could be junior year and the project done during first semester senior year."
Both of those changes, shortening the Odyssey program and starting it junior year, have been discussed at meetings of the requirements committee.
Mayer said it could be difficult to establish continuity with the program during the summer break if Odyssey began junior year. And a one-semester course, she added, would change the current process in which students prepare their project idea during the fall semester, then complete it in the spring.
"It wouldn't be the senior project that we know now -- the expectations would have to be adjusted," Mayer said. "But that's for the decision-making groups to kick around."
The Graduation Require--ments Committee will host a forum for public comment at an undetermined date, likely before Dec. 20.