Our View: An Odyssey's untimely end

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The demise of Steamboat Springs High School's Senior Odyssey program is a shame.

The program forced Steamboat Springs High School seniors to go through career exercises such as resume building and mock job interviews and to work with a mentor to complete an independent project that they had to present and defend to a group of judges.

This year's senior class was the second that was required to complete the Odyssey program to graduate. But amid complaints from parents and students in the fall, the School Board and school administration effectively gutted the program. The board, based on an administrative recommendation, voted to make the program an elective next year.

Predictably, most students passed on the option. There aren't enough students signed up to hold the class, Principal Mike Knezevich said last week. Some students will take a careers class and may decide to do an independent project, but for all practical purposes, Senior Odyssey is over.

How disappointing. Yes, Senior Odyssey was hard. Yes, it may have taken time away from jobs, athletics or Advanced Placement classes. No, other schools didn't make their students do it. But Senior Odyssey distinguished Steamboat Springs High School -- it benefited seniors, even if they did not always recognize it.

One of the biggest challenges facing public education is making the final year of K-12 education meaningful and engaging. The National Commission on the High School Senior Year said as much in its 2001 study, "The Lost Opportunity of Senior Year: Finding a Better Way."

The study indicated that students largely determine their futures by the time they complete 11th grade. Seniors know whether they are going to college, technical school, into the work world or the military, and nothing they do during their senior years will alter that. Students often cruise through their senior year as if it were a deserved reward.

Senior Odyssey is the kind of progressive program the report argued high schools need. It contained practical vocational components, career counseling and the creative challenge of the independent project. It pushed Steamboat Springs seniors to do more than their peers at other schools. The program bucked the "tyranny of low expectations" that the report blames for the failures of education in general and 12th grade specifically.

For validation of Senior Odyssey, talk to the seniors. Many of them hated the program before engaging in it but gained an appreciation for it as they completed their projects. Invariably, seniors say the class was rewarding, that it taught them responsibility and that their senior projects were cool. Consider Nicole Curd, whose senior project involved putting together a concert benefiting impoverished city school music programs. "I didn't like the senior project at first, but doing it really gave me structure," Curd said. "I learned a lot about myself."

Senior Odyssey pushed seniors to work harder and do more than they thought they could. The graduation requirement nudged them along this personal journey.

In the end, the parents who complained about Senior Odyssey, the administration that recommended making the program optional and the School Board that so quickly gave up on it sold our seniors short. How sad -- the very people whose job it is to raise the expectations of what our students can achieve chose, in this case, to lower them.

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