Capstones Create New Pathways for Student Passions
Story by Kelly Teagarden ’04 // Photo by Sarah Jane Tart
Moral. Happy. Productive. The Upper School’s Cavalier Capstone program launched last May with happy in mind. The culminating experiences, held after commencement, were created to provide students in grades 9 to 11 with learning opportunities beyond the traditional classroom — experiences that deepened and broadened student learning beyond the academic calendar, complemented and enhanced curriculum, and most importantly, allowed students to pursue authentic passions through a range of choices.
It was an experiment, but in 2019’s inaugural capstone week, students and teachers embraced the opportunity to learn, play and have fun together! Whether they built an underwater robot, wrote and illustrated their own comics, biked through the Appalachian Mountains, trekked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu or marched over the Edmund Pettus Bridge, students authentically and joyfully engaged in an activity of their choice. It was also an inspiring week of community outreach and partnerships. Students met the mayor of Durham, cooked alongside immigrant women from Afghanistan and Syria, interviewed and shared the stories of people struggling with homelessness, learned from farmers and chefs, built the external walls of a Habitat for Humanity house and more. The energy and enthusiasm were palpable on campus as well. As the week went on, multiple mini-golf course holes emerged on the quad and the smell of fresh strawberry jam wafted through the air.
The reflections that follow echo the feedback of students and faculty alike who appreciated that a program driven by choice created a group of enthusiastic, curious and passionate participants. Mixed grade levels allowed for informal mentoring and friendships among students who might not traditionally overlap. Faculty appreciated being seen as equal participants scaling the mountain, facilitating more organic and authentic relationships between students and teachers. Overall, participants were grateful for the valuable balance and joy that capstones brought to the end of the school year. Rather than ending with exams, everyone was able to head into summer happy and inspired.
The resounding feedback from students was to offer the same capstones again in 2020. We’ve incorporated many of 2019’s phenomenal experiences such as the “Civil Rights Tour Through the American South” and outdoor expeditions, but we’ve also added new and exciting hands-on experiences related to animals, health care and art. We look forward to another incredible year of capstones thanks to the imagination and effort of faculty in designing the myriad offerings and to the enthusiasm and energy of the students in bringing them to life.
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