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NCDS News

Eighth Graders Demonstrate Social Awareness Through Inaugural Capstone Projects

The 2023-24 school year marked the introduction of the Grade 8 Capstone Project, a year-long independent study project that connects academia, service, and the Goals of Sacred Heart schools. With mentorship from a faculty member, each student proposed, planned, and executed a project that displayed interest in a particular topic, a thorough understanding of the Middle School curriculum, and a connection to the five Goals. The project allowed for immense flexibility in the topic selection process, providing students with the opportunity to combine their interests outside of class with the research and presentation skills they have developed in the Middle School. Capstone Director and Middle School faculty member Emily Horwitz shared, “By creating a space for the eighth-grade students to pursue a course of study that is self-determined and limited only by the time they can give to the project, the Capstone process establishes a model for intrinsic motivation and independent learning and achievement.”

The project culminated in an evening of informative presentations for family and friends, where students showed off a variety of final products. Examples among them included: an original storybook in braille to share a story of inclusion; shadow box art pieces made from trash gathered on beaches to educate others about recycling; and homemade keto sweets to inform the audience about the benefits of the keto diet for people with epilepsy.

"This was the biggest thing I had ever had to do on my own before,” E. Wulff ‘28 shared. She chose to learn about the history of American Sign Language and created a booklet to teach simple signs to those unfamiliar with the language. “It took me a couple of months, but I began to feel confident in writing out my weekly plans to stay on top of my work. I began focusing more on having fun and learning new things along the way, rather than getting hung up on small mistakes.” She explained that she developed resilience throughout the process and feels very thankful that this project encouraged her to learn to sign so that she may connect with deaf people in the future.

N. Trull ‘28 was inspired to train her dog to be a service animal after seeing an emotional support animal improve the mental state of one of her relatives. Through her project, she learned the differences between emotional support animals, therapy animals, and service animals. “My favorite part of my Capstone project,” she explained, “was getting to spend more time with my dog and learning about the impact a fluffy friend can have on a person experiencing trauma, depression, and anxiety.”

E. Murray ‘28, who wrote and self-published a novella, and I. Goncalves ‘28, who made a Brazilian family cookbook in English and Portuguese, both encountered challenges in their book-making processes, but gained valuable skills as they learned to overcome them. Murray explained that she experienced technical difficulties in the self-publishing process and developed concerns about time constraints. She reflected on the process, saying: “I have gained a lot of confidence from this project. The fact that I was able to complete a big project like this, to publish a book with scarcely any help, is incredible. It helped assure me that I could do big things and gain some confidence in my abilities that I had previously lacked.”

Goncalves learned nine different traditional Brazilian recipes from her aunts and uncles to include in her cookbook, but found it difficult at first to navigate completing schoolwork, attending after school activities, and meeting with each of her family members in person. “I really developed my time management skills through this project,” she shared.

Grade 8 teacher Allyson Grasso shared that the Goals were anchors for the students in the research process: “They were through lines that created purpose for their projects.” Horwitz echoed Grasso’s statements, saying, “The students learned through the Capstone process to take themselves--their ideas, their values, their interests, their abilities--seriously and to expect others to take them seriously as well. The Sacred Heart Goals are thus central, as they are the shared values that shape our days and our identity.”

Looking to the future, Grasso shared that this year’s seventh graders are already excitedly discussing their projects for next year after seeing the passion and dedication of the eighth graders.