Topsham high school launches senior Capstone program

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TOPSHAM — A capstone forms the top of a building or wall. It’s the final touch – a crowning achievement.

It is also the name of a new Mt. Ararat High School project that marks the culmination of a student’s high school experience.

“The stones are your education for the 13 years that build up, and the capstone is taking everything you learn all 13 years and doing an independent, self-directed project,” Principal Craig King said.

A pilot version of the project, which involves 13 juniors and two seniors, began last month and runs through May.

“I admire them because they’re taking a risk,” King said. “These 15 teenagers are going out and doing something no one has ever done before (at the school), and they’re going to work at it, and come May 15 they’re going to present.”

King said the presentation may be made to at least one faculty member and an expert in the project field.

Through Capstone, seniors will hopefully develop projects that show they have the skills to be lifelong, self-directed learners. They will show their skills as quality workers, effective communicators, problem solvers and informed and integrative thinkers.

“It’s basically putting our money where our mouth is,” King said, “that indeed our students at Mt. Ararat can do these things.”

The projects will be subjects of great interest to individual students, and they will be encouraged to go beyond their regular academic work and expand upon their school experiences.

The Capstone concept has been in the works at Mt. Ararat for about five years, and the project’s committee was expected to present a proposal to the School Administrative District 75 Board of Directors on Thursday. With the board’s support, the Class of 2012 will be the first to fully take part in the project.

Sara Cornish, a junior who is among those piloting Capstone, is job shadowing in the radiology department at Parkview Adventist Medical Center in Brunswick. She is keeping a journal of her experiences.

“It’s … helping me lift off more of what I want to do for my career,” she said.

Fellow junior Zach Pratt said he will do research on local businesses, to “basically see how they got started, (and) what’s successful.”

“I feel like this project really lets me explore something major, and see if I want to continue with it to college,” he said.

“Part of the strategy is, for students and faculty and community members who’ve never seen Capstone projects, it helps to start with some really good examples,” said Steve Spaeth, a student projects coordinator who is helping to support the Capstone project.

The students will receive half a credit for completing Capstone, and it will be recommended to the School Board that every senior complete the project, King said.

Dawn Prindall, a community liaison in SAD 75, said the point is for students to explore a field that is interesting to them, and to identify a passion.

“What I’m trying to avoid is this being a course that is a compliance effort, a hoop that they have to jump through,” King said. “I would really like this to be something that kids can make their own, kids can decide what is important to them, and they go out and research it and they come back and show us.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.