Roaring Fork District senior ‘capstone’ projects near final deadline
The idea for a new but mandatory high school capstone project was led by teachers, students, parents and school administrators who collectively thought learning should also take place outside the classroom.
Rob Stein, superintendent of Roaring Fork Schools, said in a film about the new projects that the school district asked community members what learning modes should be implemented and what goals high school seniors should be expected to conquer before possibly leaving the valley.
He said the answers centered on hands-on, self-directed, out-of-the-classroom learning.
“I think too much of learning in schools is school directed,” Stein said.
“We tell you what we want you to learn, we tell you how we’re going to measure your learning, and then we tell you the reasons why,” he said.
“And then we say, go off in the world and be independent. And that’s backwards,” he said.
About 375 seniors this year are required to explore an in-depth, authentic project, product or performance, according to Tom Penzel, capstone coordinator for the school district, which includes high schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt.
The capstone is implemented to help students develop critical thinking, research, communications and organizational skills, and it has a public speaking component since it must be presented after completion.
Students are expected to work on their projects inside and outside of school, and are broken up into “crews” of about 15 to 20.
They are then assigned a teacher or capstone coordinator who will grade the projects from start to finish.
down to the wire
There are multiple grading deadlines scheduled to ensure students are on track. The last, on Friday, will determine whether or not students receive a pass, fail or revision on their work thus far.
If students fail or need to revise their project, Penzel says this doesn’t mean they automatically won’t graduate.
It means they have the two remaining weeks left in school to complete their work.
However, he said, there are likely a number of students who still have not submitted their projects for evaluation.
Those who don’t finish before graduation will be required to complete their capstones over the summer, he said.
“Some students will say they don’t have the time. There might have been students who thought, ‘I don’t need to do this,’” Penzel said, adding that in reflection reports, many of those students say they’ve simply procrastinated.
But the Roaring Fork School District Board says it’s a requirement.
“They were told this last year, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise this year,” Penzel said.
After Friday, when capstones are graded, Penzel said he’ll have a better sense of how many students have and haven’t completed their projects.
All 22 of Bridges High School’s students have finished their assignments. The capstone requirement is not new to their school.
Penzel says, for him, the best part of the entire experience is the final product. He said he’s impressed by many of the projects students have already completed, and added that the school district has decided to introduce capstones a bit earlier so students can start planning ahead.
“The students in the middle school are now familiar with capstones,” he said.
“Freshmen and sophomores are talking about what they might do for their projects,” he said, adding that some of the proposals from next year’s senior class are already impressive.
Introducing the capstone guidelines sooner gives capstone advisers the opportunity to help refine projects that are too ambitious, Penzel said.
Kyle Hofferbert, senior at Basalt High School, was adopted when he was just 4 months old.
He says his capstone is centered on Cambodian adoptions, which he says have been closed since 2001.
His goal is to learn about what it would take to reopen such adoptions.
“I hope someone else will pick up from what I’m doing, or someone will hear about my capstone outside of the valley and maybe want to help me so I’m not the only one trying to gather the information,” he said in the capstone film.
Davis Deaton, senior at Glenwood Springs High School, filmed drone footage during the deconstruction and reconstruction of the Grand Avenue Bridge.
Capturing drone footage was something he already enjoyed doing, and he incorporated this passion into his school curriculum.
He wanted to show the local community, which utilizes that bridge on a daily basis, what the entire process looked like from start to finish, he said.
Cal Branigan, senior at Roaring Fork High School, produced a 30- to 40-minute sci-fi film that incorporates multiple television genres.
“I picked this project. This is my passion. This is what I’m proud to do,” he said.
“And that’s for sure what I would tell other students who are thinking ahead about it.”
Jennifer Ayala, a senior at Basalt High School, dedicated her capstone to a friend who was killed in a car accident.
The project turned into a driver’s education course taught at Basalt High School, and she says the hardest part of the project was overcoming her shyness.
“The message I want to give out to every student is that it’s not just about driving behind the wheel, it’s really learning how to use the wheel, because if you don’t know how to use it the correct way, many can get hurt,” she said.
On May 22, each high school is hosting a capstone showcase, which will serve refreshments and is open to the public.
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