Capstone program provides students with insightful opportunities
Real world experience has long been considered one of the best ways to prepare for life beyond high school. But as the struggle of scoring competitive internship and work programs mounts, students are often left to sort through this puzzle themselves. The capstone program - just one year old - provides students with the guidance they need to venture on personal academic journeys that will enrich them beyond the classroom.
The capstone program requires seniors to complete a project over summer or during the school year that can take a variety of forms, such as an internship, college class or portfolio. This year, a total of about 90 seniors completed capstone projects. The Entrepreneurship Academy had the most students complete a project, but only slightly more than the rest of the academies. Completing the capstone project allows students to graduate with an academy certificate, according to academies coordinator Jennifer Kempf, who leads the program. On Thursday and Friday during both lunches, seniors displayed these manifestations of a year or more of work for underclassmen to view in the IMC. Kempf estimates around 400 to 500 underclassmen showed up over the two-day period to see the displays. Parents were invited to come on Thursday afternoon to view the displays.
With a wide range of offerings, students can choose projects that correspond with their personal interests, academic and otherwise. Senior Iliya Smithka, who completed her computer modeling project at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA, has seen the benefits of the capstone program. "It's a good idea that lets students have this opportunity to do anything we want to do," Smithka said. "There are lots of things you can do and really no limitations."
Smithka believes that the focus of the program is to get students thinking about their lives beyond senior year. "The capstone program gives students the chance to get outside of school and just look forward into the future," Smithka said. "It lets you think about what you may want to do later in you life." Kempf agrees, saying, "The capstone program was designed to have students put all their thoughts from high school together and look ahead into the future."
Senior Sam Ricci created a documentary film on street performers around the Washington, D.C. area. His documentary tells the story of a few performers he followed around on his own time. "[My project] is really different from most other people's," Ricci said. "But I like it. It was really fun and I got to see a lot of cool things and meet new people." He feels that the program can really help out college-bound seniors. "It is a good thing to do during your senior year because it's a good learning experience that really prepares you for college projects," Ricci said.
The culmination - Thursday and Friday's main event - is one of the best features of the capstone program. With guidance along the way, students' work concludes with a reflective essay and oral presentation or performance on what they did on May 1 and 2. Seniors had displays such as posters, PowerPoint presentations or videos for their projects and stood by their displays. They explained their projects to underclassmen and answered any questions their fellow students had. The goal of the presentation was to help to make underclassmen aware of the capstone program and get them interested, according to Kempf.
The project is by no means easy – hard work over the summer is included. Throughout the course of her work, Smithka has felt frustration and stress with impending deadlines. "It is not the easiest thing to do," she said. "It got really hard at some times. I remember working on it for hours at a time." But continuing onward benefited her in the long run: today, Smithka feels more prepared for her future. "I'm definitely glad I stuck with it," Smithka said. "It helped me get used to what real world working and college is going to be like. Besides, it gave me something else to put on my college applications."
Taking the time to complete a capstone project may be a hassle, but the long-term benefits of completion are invaluable. Internships provide students with real world experience, but are very hard to find on one's own. The capstone program guides students along the way and makes the experience and enjoyable and educational one. Not only does it provide seniors with a glimpse of what they might like to do in the future, but it is excellent for college applications and an enriching experience. "This was absolutely phenomenal," Kempf said. "These seniors are going to benefit from this program so much down the road a few years."
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