The Creation of Capstone

Capstone Honors Symposium is going to be a new elective at Horizon Honors next year that allows students to work on a year-long project about something they’re passionate about.

Hannah Browning, Campus Life Editor

Capstone Honors Symposium will allow students to explore topics they love with the help of their principal, Cynthia Shaheen. Shaheen would recommend the class to anyone who hopes to take a class that they basically design. If you want a class that isn’t offered at school, Capstone is an amazing option

The Horizon Sun: What exactly is the Capstone class?

Cynthia Shaheen, principal: Capstone is a vehicle that’s often used at universities, and it’s usually a climactic experience, a final opportunity of something. That’s the first thing is; you’d want to know what capstone is. It’s kind of a way of capping your education, so in a university setting may be you were studying or researching a particular thing and now you’ve got a big project that goes around it. In a high school setting, I really call it a “project of passion.” There are many things that our students are passionate about, but that may not be captured in a particular class, so let’s put this project together where you can pursue your passion, and present it to others. The Capstone project ends in a symposium, and a symposium is basically a gathering of those that we choose to invite where you’re going to share that passion project. How does that work? It works through research, it works through actually a creation of a project, the sky’s the limit with the options of what it could encompass.

The first student who’s involved in a capstone right now is doing a research project through ASU at one of their laboratories, and he’s studying mice models and the results of injecting a particular protein, and its effects on learning and memory and, hopefully, the cure of Alzheimer’s. And he’s been participating in his lab and finally gotten permission to test his own strand of a protein, and that is what his Capstone project is about. He’s actually started it this year and will be presenting middle of the year next year. He’s kind of been my pilot program to see that everything we have in place will work for this. For him, the research works hand in hand along with the creation of the project, and then he’ll give us his report out in the end at the symposium – what he did, what he found, what he learned, what failed, what worked – that kind of thing.

Another example that I gave that’s from the arts end of things was a young man who was highly interested in composition and composing music, and had never been able to compose for more than one instrument at a time. So he had to do a lot of research in learning how to compose from multiple instruments in multiple ranges of sound, and how that puts the research, but then the actual composition of making the music, and then part of his symposium will be the actual performance of people playing those instruments playing his compositions. So you can see it’s pure passion but it could be from a science end, an art end, it can go anywhere.

So that’s it in a nutshell. It’s hard to explain, because you can’t just say “it’s this.” It’s what we make it. There’s certain benchmarks that students have to make. There are certain journals that they have to keep. It’s got requirements that go with it and a timeline that goes with it, but that’s all adapted one on one to make the program exactly theirs. It’s not a class that they actually go to class and sit in. They meet with their committee chair, who helps guide their progress, and it might mean that during my class time I’m down in the lab. It might mean during my class time I’m over in the music room, or it might mean I’m at such and such library doing certain research or something that’s all pre-arranged with their committee chair so they never really ever sit in a class, but it is a class.

The Sun: What can students taking the class expect for the year?

CS: They’ll be meeting with their committee chair. This year I will be the committee chair. We have five students who will be doing a Capstone next year, plus our pilot student, so six, but I’ll be the committee chair for all of them. In the future, someone on the principal’s team will be their chair, so it could be the assistant principal, or one of the master teachers, or me. They’ll pick a content advisor based on what they’re studying because I’m not the expert in biological sciences, let’s say. It might be that they have a content advisor that’s from our science department, or in the music example I gave you it might be the band director that’s their content advisor. We meet with that student and help set up their goals. We put targets out according to the timeline of things that need to be completed, and we work to accomplish those goals. It’s very  individualized.

The Sun: What would a typical class day look like?

CS: The one student I have, his capstone is the very first block of the day, so that’s why he could be at the lab during that block and then start his school day during our second block. It might be that we have an appointment during that block one, where we have worked ahead to a certain point and now it’s time to meet again, so he meets with me one-on-one in my office and we go through what have we done: let’s look at the evidence, what goals are next, and he reports out on something, whatever it is that we need to do to keep him moving forward. That block he might need to be doing some writing; he’s working on his outline for his research paper, so he might be in the media center doing that. It’s as varied as what that could look like as the individual projects.

The Sun: How do they come up with the individual projects?

CS: Well, the students who were going to be doing this had to come to me with that passion idea. Some of them were right on already with what their thinking was; some of them were like, “I’m kind of thinking about this,” and then I gave them some guidance, telling them “you might try this” or “you might try that.” Over spring break they thought about it, they kind of looked at things I suggested, and then they met with me the first two days after spring break to finalize it. It comes from all different interests and things people are involved in. It just depends.

The Sun: What will the final project look like?

CS: It depends on each person. Like I said the one student would have to present about his whole process and what he went through in his research and music and all of that, but we’re going to actually hear what he created. The other student that’s doing the mice model research, he’s going to wind up having more of a PowerPoint probably and having to explain his whole process and share evidence of what took place.

The Sun: Would you recommend the capstone class, and why?

CS: I absolutely would recommend it because I think it looks great on a resume for colleges, there’s one real big bonus there, and I recommend it for kids that truly do have passions. I know with my own daughters, sometimes things within their classes met their needs with what they had to learn, but they had passions on top of that. My oldest daughter wanted to be published before she was out of high school, but she didn’t know how to do it. How do you get a literary agent? She kind of did her own little mini capstone on her own during an independent study time that we had for her in high school. I’ve felt that kids need to have opportunities to explore the world anyway they can, and the capstone is a great opportunity for that to happen I don’t think you should be put in a box, and you should have an opportunity to explore. You just never know what doors are going to get opened because of what you do.

Capstone Honors Symposium will be a great addition to our school and help our students make a difference.