Fantastically Original Capstone Projects

During the 2019-2020 school year, the second cohort of juniors undertook and completed Capstone projects.  These projects are student-designed and completed over the span of one school year.  Capstone projects have become a major differentiator in the college application process and also give students an opportunity to work more independently, practice time management on a long term project and improve many of the critical skills needed for college success such as research, writing, presenting, and planning.  Students have an opportunity to study just about anything they want and design a project around that topic. Students are strongly discouraged from writing a research paper and are instead encouraged to create something to share their knowledge and mastery of a new topic in a more hands-on and creative way.  This year’s projects accomplished all of those goals and the final products were varied and quite impressive.

Bella Brown '21 showcased her writing on a website and blogged about the creative process.

Eight students began the Capstone journey this fall under the direction of former faculty member Dr. Elizabeth Radday.  Dr. Radday currently works for Skills21at EdAdvance and has been working with over 20 Connecticut school districts on Capstone projects, designing Capstone curricula and activities and conducting research for a National Science Foundation grant on the topic.  Students met weekly with Dr. Radday and worked independently during the rest of the week.  The year started with an activity called “Find My Passions” where students were asked questions such as “what is your personal mantra,” “what are you doing when you feel most confident,” and “what issues matter most to you.”  Students used this activity as a springboard to start thinking about the topic they wanted to study and how they wanted to present their knowledge.  Student passions included soccer, clothing design, art, the environment, history, creative writing, and social justice. For the first several weeks of the course students created time management plans, amassed annotated bibliographies, created websites, spoke to adult mentors, and presented their ideas to each other.  

Via Masina '21 was inspired for her Capstone project, 'Meatless Mondays', while she was in India for the Round Square International Conference in September

Throughout the winter term, students refined their plans and began to really dig into their topics.  Isabella Brown ‘21 spent hours writing her own creative short stories.  She decided to tell the same story from the point of view of four different high school-aged students.  The theme of her stories was “being true to yourself.”  Each week she edited, revised, shared, brainstormed, wrote, and re-wrote.  Olivia Pignataro ‘21 spent the winter looking for nearby hiking trails and learning more about pollution and its impact on the environment.  She also studied artists that used collage as their primary art form.  Going into spring break she was poised to hike ten local trails to collect trash and make collages using the found objects on each trail.  Koby Mbonu ‘21 spent time thinking about how he could mix his two very different interests - knitting and sports.  Koby stumbled upon the current trend of using data to create patterns in woven and knitted materials.  Koby decided to take the game rating for his favorite player, Marcus Rashford of Manchester United and created a color key to show his game rating over time in his scarf.  Dante Abad ‘21 was also interested in soccer but wanted to be more involved in the development of young players.  He planned to observe his younger brother’s soccer team and look for training exercises to help young players develop their skills.  He wanted to track their development as individual players and as a team over time.  Madeleine Paddock ‘21 is a passionate history student and planned to create a film about some of the lesser-known aspects of American History.  Cole Branson wanted to take his interest in fashion and the Japanese style of sashiko embroidery to create a unique pair of jeans.  Two students, Via Messina ‘21 and Devin Sierra ‘21, presented their ideas to the Marvelwood Administrative Team because their projects impacted the whole school and they were both unanimously approved.  After Via’s Round Square trip to India in October of 2020, she became very interested in the school’s global footprint and knew that meat consumption is a major factor in calculating a person’s impact on the environment.  Via proposed trying out a few “Meatless Mondays” at Marvelwood during the spring term.  Devin thought back on the huge impact his middle school, The East Harlem School, had on him and wanted to find a way to give back to the school that had set him on a path to success.  He fondly recalled a trip he took as a middle schooler to another boarding school to participate in a lacrosse clinic and learn about the school possibilities outside New York City.  Devin was excited to organize a full-day trip for his middle school to visit Marvelwood, observe some classes, eat in the dining hall, and participate in sports practices or watch a game. Devin set his sights on what he anticipated would be a beautiful day in April for his event.   

Students set off for Spring Break in early March with plans to get some work done during their time off and really hit the ground running for the final term of the year.  Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic impacted all of the students’ projects in a variety of ways and led to some incredible pivots and some unavoidable pauses in work.  Via, Devin, Cole, and Dante realized that their projects were unable to happen during the spring term but are committed to their projects so, rather than pivoting and create new projects, they plan to complete their projects in the fall.  

Olivia Pignataro '21 created artwork from 'found' items in natural areas around campus and near her home. 

Four students make some adjustments to their work and were able to successfully complete their projects.  Bella continued to write, and while she and Dr. Radday could no longer meet in person, their weekly Zoom meetings kept them connected and Bella was able to share her work with others via Google Docs.  Her final collection of four short stories is now available on her website.  Olivia’s hiking plans were put on hold for a few weeks and then as people were more comfortable once again leaving their homes, she was able to hit the trails.  Unfortunately, much of the garbage she encountered was dirty tissues and used face masks, which she wisely decided not to collect.  She did find other usable trash and natural materials that could become part of her collages.  Her final collages were juxtaposed with a photo she took on each hike.  She recreated the photo using the found materials on each hike and also wrote powerful reflections on her experience hiking and observing the trash left behind. 

Koby Mbonu's hand-knit 'game rating' scarf

Madeleine was inspired by the current pandemic to re-work her history documentary to instead focus on global pandemics throughout history including the Bubonic Plague and the AIDS crisis.  While unable to complete interviews as she hoped, instead Madeleine taught herself how to create animation and wrote and narrated her own script. Her final video is both educational and artistic. 

Finally, Koby noted that Rashford’s season was cut short, as were all sports seasons, with the pandemic.  However, he did create a knitted scarf that used three different shades of red to illustrate Rashford’s game rating.  For each game, he knitted two rows of white (win), black (loss) or gray (draw), and then knit four rows corresponding to his game rating.  The final scarf is several feet long!

On June 3rd the Capstone students had their final Zoom meeting and presentations.  Many faculty members joined in along with the students’ parents to see the final reveal of their year long work.  Each student had an opportunity to share their project and faculty members shared their comments, accolades, and impressions.  All the projects were well received and all students were encouraged to continue their work in different ways.  Madeleine plans to add more to her film about other plagues.  Olivia will continue to hike this summer and create more art.  Bella was encouraged to look into publishing opportunities for her short stories. Koby was encouraged to think about his data scarf as a business proposition. Perhaps coaches and players would love scarves that show off their records for the season as a neat way to “wear” their data!   

Marvelwood plans to offer Capstone again next year to interested and motivated juniors.  Email Academic Dean, Dr. Heather Hunt for more information.

Project links:

Maddie Paddock '21 reworked her history documentary to focus on global pandemics in response to Covid-19