One unique element of Ranney’s academic curriculum is the division-culminating Capstone project. Students conclude their time in the Lower, Middle and Upper School with a significant research project that expands their intellectual curiosity beyond the formal curriculum. In fifth, eighth and twelfth grade, students have the opportunity to use their talents and interests as a form of expression and to demonstrate what they have learned as they move through the three divisions at Ranney School.
Capstone is first introduced in Lower School, where fifth graders learn to explore intellectual inquiry, understand context and articulate information in unique ways. At the beginning of the year, students select a topic that they find to be interesting and use media research, U.S. History, English, literature and technology skills to explore their topic. While students receive guidance from their Capstone advisors, homeroom teachers, technology teacher and librarian, they must do their own research. At the end of the school year, the students present their work to teachers and fellow classmates.
“The students’ goal is to formulate essential questions they want to answer in their report,” explains Doreen Fowlkes, fifth-grade teacher and Capstone advisor since 2002. “They learn skills to help distinguish between reliable and unreliable resources to use as reference. Students read to locate information that answers their essential questions and record this information in their own words. They also keep record of the research materials they use by creating a bibliography and learn the value of time management, as well as how to present to a live audience with confidence.”
By the time students reach the end of Middle School in their eighth-grade year, the Capstone Project becomes more challenging, requiring more independent work with guidance from teachers and advisors. After students select a topic, they must research the topic and record their findings in the form of a paper. English teacher Dr. Carol Palermo, says, “We have had students explore topics from almost every discipline—science, literature, history, philosophy, psychology and even pop culture. A key aspect of topic selection lies in encouraging students to go outside of their comfort zones and to steer away from the familiar and comfortable.”
Upon completing the paper, students work with teachers and advisors to turn their paper into a visual presentation (e.g., Powerpoint, demonstrations and video) for their peers, faculty and parents. Throughout the process, students gain experience in academic research and the process of inquiry while learning to organize and format papers. Spending a full quarter working on Capstone allows them time to develop the skills necessary for effectively reading and comprehending nonfiction text, as well as producing clear, accurate and concise writing that communicates their research findings. “This project instills a great sense of accomplishment in students,” says Dr. Palermo. “They really see that their academic potential is greater than what they might have thought.”
At the end of senior year, Upper School Capstones represents the conclusion of each student’s comprehensive education, encompassing the depth and breadth of skills and disciplines learned across all three divisions. Seniors work independently to research their chosen topic and are enrolled in a Capstone course as one of their five academic courses, where they receive guidance from advisors and school administrators. While some students complete a major writing project, such as an essay or research paper, others find that writing is of secondary importance. Different presentations have included museum exhibits, gallery displays and student-produced films. Students present their Capstone projects to a panel of faculty and students, defending their work and demonstrating all they have learned throughout their time at Ranney School. Students often continue to build on their fifth- or eighth grade Capstones during their time at Ranney by delving further into their chosen topic during senior year, and others select a fresh topic to study.