Twenty-five students worked on a broad variety of Capstone Projects this year and presented them at the Capstone Symposium at PCS on May 17th.
The PCS Capstone Course is an elective, independent research course in which students, working with faculty advisors, design their own project. Faculty members Jamal Hunt and Nirshan Perera co-teach the course and assist students.
“Last year dozens of students discussed and presented a wide variety of projects and ideas [at the Capstone Symposium]. We listened to a student's piano song and then heard about the evolutionary characteristics of a certain fish. I saw the importance of fostering creativity and depth. I saw the diversity of thought and passion housed at PCS,” said Kaya Wooley, a PCS senior. Kaya did a Capstone Project last year and did another this year investigating the creation of an organizational structure to continue Model UN at PCS.
In addition to Kaya’s project, other projects this year included Amaya Dennis’ Surfing into Sustainability, that had her constructing a surfboard from recycled materials; Darius Mozayan & Taylor Foy’s North American Wildlife: A Conservation Endeavor with Photography showcasing their photographs of endangered species, and Robin Lambidakis and Brookie Schwind’s Lost in Translation: The Surprising Inconsistencies in All Men Are Mortal. Robin and Brookie, who read Simone de Beauvoir’s All Men Are Mortal, translated by Leonard Friedman for a PCS class, did their own translation and were surprised to find shocking differences between the original and translated work. One line, “ Regina said,” became “Regina smiled sardonically,” and “cheese fritters” became “turtle soup.”
Capstone Projects encourage PCS students to think about what in the world drives their creative passions, and to imagine how they can translate this into an academic research project. "PCS’s Capstone Project empowers our students to really run with their individual interests way beyond the boundaries of the school curriculum,” explains Nirshan Perera, English teacher and Capstone Course co-instructor. “It actively encourages PCS kids to embrace the agency they have as thinkers and learners and creators in the world. Each year, our Capstone Symposium is a poignant and powerful showcase and celebration of everything they've achieved and everything in front of them!”
Some Capstone projects are writing-intensive, culminating in an in-depth research paper. Some projects are more product-driven and include research and writing to a lesser extent. The course and project usually attract seniors, but juniors may also participate; students as young as seventh graders are encouraged to think about the opportunity that tackling a Capstone Project provides.
"The best thing about Capstone is it forces you to be responsible for your own learning and work,” says PCS senior Chase Wilson, whose project was writing a math textbook on Algebraic Combinatorics. Chase was on hand at the Symposium to greet visitors and explain his work.
Capstone Projects underscore a core PCS value - to give students a broad set of skills and knowledge as well as the creative freedom that will enable them to engage in impressive, independently driven research. Usually, as is the case this year, projects represent all six academic departments at PCS.
"The Capstone Program has enabled me to work on a project that I have wanted to do for a very long time, namely writing a novel. I loved the creative writing assignments we were given in 7th, 8th, and 11th grade, and wished to do more of that sort of work than is planned by the PCS curriculum, but I always found myself prioritizing assigned schoolwork over my writing hobby. By choosing to do writing for a Capstone Project, I found that I now had the time and self-accountability needed to progress my novel greatly,” notes author and PCS senior Paige Dixon.
Lily Reedy’s project Creating a Makeup Artistry Portfolio allowed her to create a professional quality portfolio while learning about photoshoots and makeup application. Sylvie Fraley & Gina Gwiazda, via their project called Understanding Culture and the Seventh Grade Experience, had PCS students take a survey and then made a report of findings, proposing solutions for teachers and parents to address issues uncovered. Devin Derecho took classes to better her coaching skills as part of her project called Positive Coaching and Natalie Bramlett spent her time studying other artists and experimenting with new art forms (In With the Tide Jewelry) for her already established jewelry business.
This year’s projects also included building an electric bass guitar (Andrew Vu); making a short film (Simran Khalsa); building an art portfolio (Chloe Cornejo), and researching cancer (Manu Chopra), mental health in the U.S. (Sofia McMillan), mental health at PCS (Sarah Madsen), a genetic condition called synesthesia (Hana Massalski), and education in the U.S. and China (Freda Liu) Some projects also focused on writing, including a paper and screenplay tracking the political subtext of romantic comedies from the 1930s to the present (Ruby Rorty), a play (AnaLea Varni), an essay with photographs on the environment (Madeleine Payne), and a public school charter (Mara Baylis).