Kim Mayer, a Senior Odyssey teacher at Steamboat Springs High School, has sensed a more positive feeling in the classroom this school year.
Students have been given more choices about what they want to do during class time.
One sign of a better feeling toward the class might be that no students have gone through a formal appeals process to Principal Mike Knezevich to be exempted from participating in parts of the class.
Senior Odyssey teacher Mar-ty Lamansky also senses that change.
"It's the difference between being told and having a choice," he said.
But some parents say students still were not given the ultimate choice -- whether to take the class. After several years of piloting the class, Senior Odyssey became a graduation requirement last year.
This past summer, a number of parents and students came before the Steamboat Springs School Board and voiced concerns about the class being a requirement. Their message was that the class was beneficial to many students, but should not be required during senior year.
In Senior Odyssey, students take either senior experience, which is one credit, or careers, which is several credits and includes an internship. Both use the same curriculum and include three common assessments: a speech, an interview and senior project. Students are judged by groups of community members and work closely in the community, especially for their senior projects.
In late August, the School Board gave direction to the high school to keep the graduation requirement in place for this school year. But, members emphasized the importance of an individualization plan to ensure students did not have schedule conflicts or other issues with the class.
Whether Senior Odyssey should remain a graduation req-uirement in years to come will be examined by a graduation requirements committee this fall and winter. All high school graduation requirements will be considered, with a goal of having changes in place for the 2006-07 school year.
If the graduation requirements committee follows the advice of the Community Advisory Team, which includes parents and community members who evaluate the school's progress on specific goals throughout the year, Senior Odyssey likely will remain a requirement.
A recent report from the Community Advisory Team says Senior Odyssey gives students an opportunity to demonstrate success and self-understanding and is a valuable experience, and thus should be required. The report recommends one change: that the class portion of Senior Odyssey be moved to junior year.
Since school began, students have gotten their first tastes of a revised Senior Odyssey program. Last summer, teachers took feedback from students, parents and the community and figured out how to give students more options for the first half of the first semester class.
Now, students pick and choose from a menu of 25 options or can create projects. The options fall into three categories -- personal profile, career interests and plans for the future.
Senior Odyssey teachers worked closely with high school seniors during the first two weeks of school. They assessed what students knew and what their plans for after high school were and explained changes to the class portion.
All students, Mayer and Lamansky said, found that there were activities and projects that would be useful to them.
Teachers and counselors worked closely with students to make sure there were not schedule conflicts, and a section of Senior Odyssey was offered almost every period so it would not conflict with other senior classes.
One student has been offered the option of not coming to certain Senior Odyssey classes if he can do the work at home, Lamansky said.
Students who plan to graduate mid-year are able to fulfill the entire Senior Odyssey credit during their first semester. It is the high school's policy that students come for seven semesters before they graduate, so students do not graduate after their junior years.
Pam Brenner, a parent of a 2003 SSHS graduate, a junior and a freshman, thinks Senior Odyssey should not be required senior year. What the students learn through the class is beneficial, but the information would be more helpful if spread out through students' high school careers.
"People I have talked to did not get options," Brenner said. "I do not feel they were given the flexibility the (School) Board wanted."
She said she thought students would be able to take other classes. She also said she worried that parents and seniors might not be as candid about the class or want to appeal being in the class because it is tied to a grade.
Mayer strongly disagreed with that concern and said that as teachers, she and Lamansky care about students first and would never hold a grudge or dock a student's grade if that student wanted to appeal the class.
Knezevich echoed that and said the School Board's decision that the class should be a requirement meant there were not options to replace it with another class. There are ways for students not to attend every class, but students still would have to meet common assessments, including a speech, community interview and the senior project.
Sheryl Pierson was another parent who told the School Board that she felt that Senior Odyssey should not be a requirement. Her daughter is a senior this year and also spoke out against the requirement.
Pierson said she is adopting a "wait-and-see" approach to the class, because her daughter has to take it. The class could be very valuable for some students, she said, but for students heading to college, the activities and lessons it offers come too late in the game.
Seniors seem to be aware of the controversy surrounding the requirement, mostly because last year's seniors were vocal about what they didn't like about Senior Odyssey.
"I heard nothing but complaints, nothing but time wasting a lot of work," senior Travis Mouffe said.
But, Mouffe said, he likes the class. It's given him time and resources to work on a resume, as well as college and scholarship applications.
Senior Odyssey was a seventh credit for him this semester, and though he could have taken an eighth, he decided not to take advanced placement Spanish because of the workload. Without Senior Odyssey, he said he probably would have taken Spanish.
Jenny Spencer, a senior this year, heard those complaints, too, but thinks the class is beneficial. She knows changes have been made, but she also knows that people tend to talk about what they don't like about something, rather than what they like.
She said she likely would have taken a fifth AP class if she didn't take Senior Odyssey, but that it wasn't much of a sacrifice.
Spencer knows what she wants to do after high school, so she's using class time to work on college essays and scholarship applications. For one activity, she researched colleges. She knows where she wants to go, so was skeptical about whether the exercise would be helpful, but she said it ultimately was beneficial.
"You really kind of realize the reasons, rather than think, 'Oh it would be cool,'" she said.
Senior Heidi Hillenbrand said you get out what you put into the class.
"You can find out a lot about yourself, and really, it will help you make decisions on what you want to do with your future," she said.
Hillenbrand is a ski racer who plans to take a year off after high school to focus on racing. She eventually wants to go to college. She said the class is important because it lets students step back and examine where they're going.
"Then you can know what to do with your future," she said. "So many kids go through high school and learn this and that, and they never know what their strengths are and what they want to do with their lives."