Senior projects have various similarities and differences

By Hannah Benson, ’15


Capstone. It’s the word that sends a shiver down the spine of even the bravest senior.

Most of us know that Capstone revolves around answering a carefully-worded essential question formed by the student. Over the course of senior year, students collaborate with a “mentor,” write a Position Paper and present their final product to a group of teachers and fellow seniors. If a student falls behind the incremental deadlines set by teachers, their open lunch and study hall privileges are revoked.

Capstone Director and senior Language Arts teacher Diane Haddad believes Capstone will have varying levels of difficulty depending on the student’s interests.

“The Senior Capstone Project is multi-faceted and therefore different students will find different parts difficult depending on their interests,” Haddad said. “Some students find the research and academic writing interesting [and] some find the opportunity for creativity that the product offers interesting.”

Students have five Capstone release days: three are preordained by the school and two are chosen by the student.

Capstone is a graduation requirement for students. Students must achieve a 70 percent or above on each of the three components (Position Paper, Portfolio and Presentation) to graduate.

Senior Catt Perry, who is hosting a digital art exhibit for her project, says Capstone is more difficult than she imagined it would be.

“I’ve spent a lot more time on it than I was ever planning to,” Perry said. “I’ve actually really loved Capstone,  but it does take a lot of work…. Just don’t procrastinate doing things. You have to keep in mind that you also have a lot of schoolwork going on. Capstone is an additional thing thrown at you.”

IB Extended Essay

Fewer students have to worry about the Extended Essay, the cornerstone of the IB Diploma Programme. Like Capstone, the Extended Essay answers a research question and delves deeply into a topic selected by the student. Unlike Capstone, the topic is chosen from a list of approved Diploma Programme subjects and relates to a subject the student is studying in school.

IB Coordinator Cynthia Ballheim helps advise and counsel IB students on issues that range from scheduling classes to narrowing down a research question.

“Finding a topic… is the hardest thing,” Ballheim said. “It takes people forever to do that because if you choose something that you’re not interested in, it’s going to make writing the essay a drudgery. You want to be able to sustain [interest] over time.”

Many diploma students start comtemplating the subject of their Extended Essay in the spring of their junior year. During senior year, they will log 40 work hours and write an essay of a maxiumum of 4,000 words.

Students are assigned a supervisor who works in their chosen subject area. The supervisor’s role is to help the student research and refine their original question, as well as to report any other malpractice to the IB Committee. Final Extended Essays must internally cite sources and contain, at the end, a transcript of a reflective interview with Ballheim. Each component is graded separately on the IB grading scale.

Ballheim believes the Extended Essay process helps IB students stand out in college.

“Most students will have to write lots of papers when they’re in college,” Ballheim said. “The first time they’re assigned a paper in college, they may have students who are their roommates or in classes with them who say they’ve never done a paper like that before and it scares them.”