Upper school seniors presented their semester-long capstone projects on Wednesday, April 28, to juniors, faculty and staff, and to parents virtually. The senior English project began in January as students returned from break. After spending a few months reading, researching and discussing a topic of their choice, students wrote a 10-12 page essay that accounts for the bulk of their fourth quarter grade. The final piece of the project was the 30-minute presentation that followed the upper school awards assembly.
The capstone project is in its 15th year. Upper school English teacher Ben Christian and former teacher Jeff Loeb initially piloted the program, and it has expanded over the years with the help of the English department and the entire upper school. It has become a school-wide endeavor, Ben said, especially on presentation day when the faculty and staff of the upper school are needed to help run the presentations.
Students can choose whatever subject they want to cover. "It usually is a topic that hasn't been covered in a traditional class. The strength of the project, I think, is that it is something the students are curious and passionate about, something going on in their lives or something they want to make or create. They can take it in whatever direction they want to take it."
Students must use outside sources and interview experts, which helps sharpen their research skills and prepare for upcoming undergraduate assignments.
He said some seniors get so involved and engrossed in their project that it becomes more about exploring the subject matter and less about the grade, "We, as teachers of course, love when that occurs," Ben said.
The program has become a part of the tradition of the school, as students start thinking about their projects earlier and earlier. Some have had older siblings who have gone through it, and so, younger students know that it is coming. He said he hears of more and more sophomores, and especially juniors who observe the capstone presentations, begin talking about their own ideas for projects. "One teacher shared a story that a senior said he knew what he was going to do back in seventh grade!"
Although this year's capstones were a little different, as parents, alums and siblings were unable to be there in person, the school tried to make it as similar as possible. "We wanted the seniors to still have that experience of presenting in front of a group," Ben said.
Ben shared that capstones and presentation day is one of his favorite things that occurs in the upper school. "You can see that many of the seniors are genuinely proud of the work that they have done, and they should be."