A look at what seniors are doing for their senior projects.

BY BEN UNDERWOOD, ’21.

The capstone project is a rite of passage for students in the district. Most seniors are required to complete the research project to graduate, and this year, they had the option to do it either first semester or second semester.

In normal years, the project presents an opportunity for students to engage with the community through projects, events and service work. This year, though, some of these plans have been foiled by the pandemic, so some students are doing more research-based projects. The project requirements include a literature review, applied research, a reflection essay and a culminating TED Talk. 

Senior Maxine McCraw is studying the film creation process for her capstone project. 

“I knew from the beginning I wanted to do a project on film just because I’ve always been interested in TV and movies,” she said. “For my applied research, I made a film, and for my formal research, I answered a bunch of subquestions about specific parts of the film-making process.”

McCraw researched the financial considerations of film making, script writing and how genre affects production decisions.

Considered as a whole, McCraw sees the capstone project as beneficial in that it teaches students how to write research papers, but she does think the project requirements could be improved.

“With all of the essays in my class, it’s very cookie cutter and everyone follows the same stencils,” she said. “I feel like there should be a little more freedom as to how each write up is composed.”

Students pursuing an International Baccalaureate Diploma are exempt from the capstone requirement, primarily to give time to complete the many requirements of the IB Diploma. These requirements include internal assessments (class projects) and external assessments (end of year exams akin to AP tests). The closest analogue to the capstone for IB students is the extended essay, a 4,000 word paper about a topic of student choosing. 

Senior IB Student Paul Gonciulea is studying the rise of fascism after the unification of Italy for his extended essay. 

“It was just something I was curious about, so I figured I might as well research it and make something productive out of it,” Gonciulea said. “I’m really grateful to be able to have that opportunity with the extended essay.”

Unlike capstone, the extended essay has not had to change too much in response to the pandemic. Rather than enrolling in a semester-long class, as students completing a capstone  do, IB students are assigned an adviser, whom they meet with throughout the course of the project to discuss progress. 

“[COVID-19], I don’t think, has really affected the course of the extended essay,” Gonciulea said. “This is something we’ve been working on for so long that it’s not super hard for us to be able to work on it even if we’re inside or outside of class.”

Considered as a whole, Gonciulea said he is glad that he is doing an extended essay as opposed to a capstone project. He said that he views the capstone project as having too many restrictions and being more complicated in comparison to the relative simplicity of the extended essay.

“I can’t imagine doing capstone, where you take the class, and then present it to a board of teachers,” Gonciulea said. “I think this [the extended essay] is just so much simpler.”

In lieu of the capstone project, seniors in the community school program complete the Odyssey project, an independent, real-world learning experience.