Capstones: the Culmination of a Pre-k – 12 Experience

Director of Curricular Programs Natalia Hernandez writes about her role at Greenhill and about Greenhill’s Senior Capstone Program.

Arriving at Greenhill School this year as the new Director of Curricular Programs has been incredibly rewarding both personally and professionally. Personally, I am honored to be part of this amazing school that holds itself to the highest standards and deliberately asks difficult questions to ensure continuous improvement. I have spent twenty years in education hoping to find a place like this. Coming back to Texas after living abroad and in Florida feels like coming home. Coming to Greenhill School feels like coming home to a loving family. Professionally, I sought a role that would allow me to have a broader perspective of the academic program of a school. While I loved being an elementary principal, I was eager to acquire a PK – 12 understanding of a student’s experience. This role does exactly that. I am fortunate to be involved in teaching and learning at all levels at Greenhill School.

One program that demonstrates the culmination of our K-12 experience, and one that I am especially excited about, is the senior capstone. The senior capstone project provides outstanding seniors with time for in-depth exploration and study in a self-selected area of interest. This student driven project requires advanced, independent and interdisciplinary study that culminates in an exhibition of a final product. This year’s capstone projects represent a wide range of topics:

    • Writing, directing, and producing a sitcom
    • Researching areas of dark matter
    • Scientific research on the molecular mechanisms behind higher cognitive functions in humans
    • Writing and directing a short film
    • Detection methods for metastatic breast cancer
    • Designing and creating a low cost prosthetic arm
    • Marketing and producing a fashion museum
    • Writing a bill that would make shark finning and the consumption of shark fin illegal

The outstanding students who have recently presented their first trimester projects to committees of faculty and peers have a wide range of interests and reflect the diversity of our school. However, some aspects of their progress are constant among them. All of these students love learning; they are deeply passionate about their work and enjoy being immersed in their projects. They all see relevance and practical application in complex and abstract concepts. They all have the necessary preparation they need to deal with the barriers, missteps, and challenges that they will face in the project phase of their capstones. Their ability, no – desire, to receive constructive feedback demonstrates an academic maturity well beyond their years. Above all, they are prepared for so much more than their next four years of college. The skills they are honing throughout the preparation and development of their capstones will serve them well throughout their careers.

While student initiative fuels these projects, faculty relationships also play a key role in project outcome. The capstone mentors who support these students strike a careful balance between pushing their mentees to excellence and allowing them to struggle through the ongoing trials of yearlong study. They have truly mastered the art of guidance.

The capstone experience is one I hope to grow each year. I recently spoke to the junior class about the possibility of entering into capstone study as a senior. Many have already approached me with inspired and unique topics of study. The exciting thing about being at Greenhill School is that our potential is as limitless as the ideas of our students.