bds capstone 4 04.12.21hero
Brendan Largay, Head of School

Capstone 2021

If there could be a moment that marks a return to some semblance of life before the pandemic, may it be Capstone, our school’s programmatic crown jewel. We found a way to safely bring our entire eighth grade into the PAC—seated 6′ apart, masked, and ever attentive to the privilege of the moment—so that this key community experience would be shared as a class after a year of cohorted distance. And how the Class of 2021 has seized this moment.

Capstone is a clear manifestation of our mission. Inspire and challenge? Check. Each student has spent the year dedicated to a topic of their choosing, invariably inspired and challenged to great lengths along the way. Foster intellectual curiosity? Check. In the past week, we have witnessed presentations on everything from self-driving cars to nuclear fission to the trade war between the US and China to prison reform. Honor differences? Check. A student designed an app for those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; another created artwork dedicated to bringing attention to implicit bias and its impact at local independent schools; another designed hair care products specifically for black-identified folks; and still another showcased the power and strength of the introvert. All are byproducts of the project phase of the Capstone journey, and all showcase our students’ voices in honoring differences. Empower meaningful contribution through our six core values? Check. Whether raising money to fight unlawful child labor abuses around the world, debunking the myths of misinformed conspiracy theories, carefully exploring children’s rights under the law, or creating beautiful public art, our eighth graders used this opportunity to give back in dynamic and meaningful ways.

I also enjoyed a privilege that few of my colleagues or fellow parents have been able to: the opportunity to watch the mentors as they respond to their mentee’s work. Each student has a faculty advisor or mentor that supports them throughout Capstone, and these relationships showcase the bonds between the adults in our community and our eldest students. The mentors joined the eighth grade in the PAC, and each presentation began with a video introduction of their mentee. As you will see below, the name of each student’s mentor appears in italics. Additionally, all of the students have had two steady and consistent presences throughout their journey—Kate Burns, the eighth grade social studies teacher who guides the paper writing process, and the indefatigable Jen Friborg, Capstone Coordinator. Jen is something of an orchestra conductor during presentations, patiently rising and falling with the tempo of each presenter. To observe the two of them watch each student presentation, proud like parents, is quite remarkable. Someday, I could imagine Madame Friborg herself being a Capstone topic worthy of study.

It was an honor to be seated among these students as they support one another in the final phase of the journey: presenting with poise, grace, confidence, and expertise, answering challenging questions live, and reminding us of the road they have traveled over their BDS years to get here. This year, as with every year, I have learned a thing or two myself and wanted to use this space to let you know just how much.

Ripley B: Dinosaurs (Ellen Brandt) I learned that, as Ripley promised, dinosaurs were way cooler than I thought, even if these ‘terrible lizards’ were closer to ‘elongated chickens.’ Stephen Spielberg has nothing on the truth, and Ripley knows it! I also learned that it is never easy to go first—especially in a pandemic—but you’d never know it from Ripley. Great job, Ripley!

Henry M: Cryptography (Stephen Bennhoff) I learned that those Google recommendations to strengthen my password are worth heeding! I also realized that I will never be able to listen to a piece of classical music—particularly one composed by Henry himself—without thinking there may be a hidden message for me in it somewhere! Xfmm Epof, Ifosz!

Zephy B: Nanomedicine (Leigh Twarog) One can never underestimate the feeling of learning how the mRNA of the Moderna COVID vaccine works when one is just a day removed from having received the second dose, as was true for me. I also learned that the future of nanomedicine already has a young doctor (if he wants to be one!) in training. Well done, Zephy.

Henry B-J: Graffiti and Public Art (Larissa Rochford) There may be some debate about the difference between graffiti and public art, but there is no debate that Henry’s command of an enormous canvas, clarity of expression, and talent as a public artist are exceptional. I also learned from Henry that “obstacles are never insurmountable.” A sentiment we could all learn from, especially this year. Excellent job, Henry!

Noah K: Cryptocurrency (Alex Tzelnic) The future is here, and its name is Bitcoin; just ask Noah. His comprehensive understanding of cryptocurrency and its role in the global economy allowed him to present to his peers and privately educate Mr. Colson and me about whether cryptocurrencies are viable options for tuition or advancement donations. It turns out that with Noah and a superpowered desktop computer, you could mine your way to a profitable digital future. Thanks again, Noah.

Kenna S: ADHD (Emma Nairn) Creativity, resiliency, hyper-focus, and curiosity. These are the superpowers of those of us with ADHD, and Kenna made them clear to her audience with ease. Whether designing her app or recording her podcast, Kenna shed a positive light on this highly diagnosed and broadly misunderstood learning difference. She might take comfort to know that I am getting this Scoop submission in just before the deadline. Great work, Kenna!

Ellora R: Implicit Bias (Brendan Largay) From Ellora, I learned that sometimes the mentor/mentee relationship is more than symbiotic; it can be inverse. I learned so much from Ellora throughout this process—not only about the powerful ways that implicit bias filters our perspective of the world and allows for systemic views on race and class to become intractable but also about the conviction it takes to make one’s voice heard. I also learned that for someone who ‘just learned how to paint,’ she has three works of art that might suggest otherwise. Couldn’t have been any luckier than to work with you, Ellora.

Cam C: Animal Treatment in the Entertainment Industry (Mary Norman) I learned that a love of animals nurtured throughout his life readily translated to Cam’s commitment to their defense as he built an imagined sanctuary for their rehabilitation. I also learned that Cam’s family does not yet have a dog. I feel like Cam wanted me to reiterate this last point one more time, just in case his parents had forgotten. (You’re welcome, Cam.) Nice job.

Margot K: The Midwest (Dean Spencer) As the saying goes, sometimes you can take the girl out of the Midwest, but you can never take the Midwest out of the girl. I was reminded of the Midwesterner’s trademark kindness in all that Margot said and did. I learned of the clear and present challenges the Midwest faces as it seeks to recover its previous glory as the nation’s heartland. Well done, Margot.

Aviva P-B: Conspiracy Theories (Kathy Jo Solomon) First, there is no truth to the fact that neither I nor any of the other leaders in the BDS community are aliens. How absurd. Second, I am thankful to know that if some would believe such falsehoods, Aviva will carefully assess the accuracy of any claim and help us debunk the myths of the increasing number of conspiracy theories spreading throughout the world. Excellent job, Aviva! [In case our alien president is reading this right now, rest assured, I denied everything. I don’t think they’re onto us at all.]

Jacob S: Ancient religions (Gretchen Fogelstrom) I learned that great storytelling, the powerful myths of two ancient religions, and the creativity and quick wit it takes to be a Dungeonmaster in Dungeons & Dragons have unexpected things in common. I learned, too, that of the religions of two ancient civilizations—the Greeks and the Aztecs—one sought to drink life to the lees, the other practiced human sacrifice. No wonder it is the Greeks we choose to study in fourth grade. Great job, Jacob!

Harry R: Reitshamer Academy (John O’Neill) Let’s see: innovative leader, forward-looking curriculum, student-centered, project-based, leveraging the wonders of an outdoor campus. Why does this sound so familiar? No, not because it sounds like BDS, though in many ways it does. It sounds like Belmont Day’s newest competition: Reitshamer Academy, a mastery-based academy designed by Harry to reimagine education. I am already worried about faculty jumping ship for the greener pastures of RA. I have put Ms. Parfit on notice in admissions as well. A fantastic design, Harry.

Bree L: Black Hair Culture (Leesa Mercedes) I learned directly from Bree, the incredibly talented hairstylist herself, that “hair is a reflection of the inside, not the outside.” Such power derives from a proud history and understanding of black hair culture, resistance to cultural appropriation, and an eighth grade student who has a mature understanding of her identity well beyond her years. Phenomenal job, Bree.

Sophia T: The History of Books (Minna Ham) I learned from Sophia that the Reformation might never have happened as it did without Gutenberg’s printing press that advanced religion and religious rebellion in profound ways at the start of the 17th century. And it’s a good thing, too! Without it, we may have to read books like Shusterman’s Scythe by way of clay tablet… a very heavy endeavor, indeed. Well done, Sophia.

Alice S. Small Businesses during COVID-19 (Sarah Barrow) First things first. As BDS navigated the PPP loan during this pandemic, I learned that little did we know that we had a student who would dedicate her Capstone study to the impact of the PPP loan on small businesses. I also learned that one can never underestimate the power of a good mentor/mentee pairing. Just ask Sarah Barrow, Alice’s mentor! Great job, Alice.

Cody C: Self-Driving Cars (Jim Walker) Equally a presentation on the future of remarkable technology and an acknowledgment of the complicated ethics associated with self-driving cars, Cody opened many eyes during his presentation. While he and his classmates may still need to get their driver’s licenses should they choose, what was once a certainty for children in their early high school years may soon be a thing of the past, and sooner, Cody expects, than we may think! Fascinating stuff, Cody.

Brooks L: Virtual Reality in Medicine (Elinor Hannum) I learned that virtual reality has become a key tool in the fight against mental health disorders and battling the trauma of PTSD. I also learned that there is nothing so powerful as watching your child perform their Capstone. Great job, Brooks.

Lucy M: Eating Disorders (Ellie Brennan) A student with a clear passion for social justice and a willingness to tackle a complicated and challenging topic, Lucy taught us about the realities and complexities of eating disorders. I learned about the insidious ways that our culture promotes unhealthy and potentially dangerous body images at a vulnerable time in the lives of girls and young women. Armed with harrowing statistics, Lucy presented with the fearlessness required to tackle such a demanding topic. Well done, Lucy.

Isaac F: Nuclear Fission (Tara Lightbody) I learned that sometimes it is the smallest things—like, atomically small—that can generate the most energy and sometimes do the most damage. I also learned that if he wants it, there is a professorship in the future for Isaac after seeing the poise, confidence, ease, and grace with which he clearly explained this most complicated topic. Excellent work, Isaac.

Bonnie W: The US and China Trade War (Heather Woodcock) I learned that two of the world’s economic superpowers, the US and China, have only just begun to engage in a trade war that is entering its second phase now and that, as is true with many wars, doesn’t seem yet to have a clear winner or loser. I was reminded, also, of Bonnie’s considerable talent as an artist as she used animation to explain the complexity of this geopolitical and economic conflict in the simplest terms. Way to go, Bonnie!

Milly N: Child Labor (Cicely Gibson) From Milly’s presentation, I learned that there are 152 million children under the age of 17 who are forced to work across the globe and that 48% of them are between the ages of 5-11. I also learned that with compassion, care, and dedication, each of us can make a difference for the better, as Milly did throughout her project phase. Great job, Milly.

Ben R: Artificial Intelligence (Kurt Robison) “Alexa, Ben taught me that you are the weak kind of AI. Is that true?” I won’t reveal Alexa’s answer (can AI take offense to a question?) but I will say that Ben’s knowledge of artificial intelligence and machine learning is quite impressive. I also learned, as Ben put it, there is a simple way to identify ‘super-intelligent’ AI: “It’s the one that will likely destroy the world.” Thankfully, it appears super-intelligent AI is still a long way off from being developed. Nice work, Ben!

Elijah A: Circadian Rhythm and Sleep (Dale McGhee) From Elijah, I learned that a hot shower before bed–rather than, say, looking at a screen or, worse, drinking a double espresso–is a far better way to reestablish a healthy sleep cycle and to restore your circadian rhythm. I learned, too, that adolescents need 9.5-10 hours of sleep each night to feel fully restored and awake for the day. Maybe we need Elijah on our school scheduling committee? Great work, Elijah!

Charlotte M: Karate and the Martial Arts (Fred Colson) I learned from Charlotte that the rich history of karate began on a small island off of Japan in Okinawa, and that the art form has, in part, its representation in the media to thank for its rise in interest. I learned, also, that we have had a first degree black belt in our midst for over a year now; such is the virtuous humility of the discipline, and Charlotte wears it well. Senseitional job, Charlotte.

Dana C: Animal Sight (Leal Carter) From Dana, I learned that whether studying a dog, a gecko, a snake or a horse, the sight of an animal is unique, distinct and incredibly powerful. In the midst of presentations about advancements in technology, we may have as much to learn about how we see things from our own pets as we do from the most sophisticated tech, including the 360-degree vision of a goat or horse! Nice work, Dana.

Sue K: Prison Reform (Anderson Santos) From Sue, I learned that the fundamental purpose of incarceration may lie at the heart of the problem for the United States: is prison about rehabilitation or is it about punishment? While 71% of Americans believe it should be about rehabilitation, Sue cast an important light on the ways in which the system is far more punishing. I also learned that Sue’s voice is an important and well educated one in this debate and that she has the power to make an important difference in it. Well done, Sue!

Jake W: Interior Design (Anne Armstrong) One should never underestimate the power of a show like “Love It or Leave It” as it has sparked a keen interest in Jake, our resident expert on modern, contemporary, and minimalist interior design. I also heard Jake say, in the context of designing his own spaces, “follow the light to get out of the darkness.” Simple, but wise guidance from our next HGTV show host. Great job, Jake.

Alexander C: Evolution of Planes (Nathalie Pellenq) From Alexander, I learned that whether we like it or not, wars and international conflict like both of the World Wars played a critical role in accelerating the development of aviation technology. I also learned that Alexander was given the opportunity to pilot a plane during the project phase–a powerful and courageous moment for him and for his co-pilot, no doubt. Awesome job, Alexander!

Claire L: Children’s Rights (Angela DeVecchi ‘75) Whether the age of adult responsibility is 18 as defined by the United Nations or 21 defined here in the United States, Claire taught me that there are children capable of making critical legal and financial decisions who are deprived of that right simply due to their age. I also learned that those children might someday have a legal advocate in Claire herself, whose passion and competency will certainly help their cause. Great work, Claire!

Devon H: Heritage Leatherwork (Nicole Buck) I learned there is a delicate balance between preserving the secret art of a form like heritage leatherwork and advancing this endangered art form from one generation to the next. I also learned that for at least one more generation, the art form is in Devon’s talented and comfortable hands, whose understanding and early expertise in the field resulted in two beautiful pieces of leatherwork. Excellent work, Devon!

Kendree C: Optimism (Alice Henry) From one optimist to another, I was thrilled to learn a thing or two about what makes us optimists tick. From how optimism can quite literally make us live a longer life and do so more resiliently, to how our optimism may require us to do a more thorough risk assessment given our natural expectation that things will turn out well, Kendree proved the power and positivity of optimism. Congratulations, Kendree!

Toby G: Third-Party Politics (Deborah Brissenden) I learned that while the power of the two-party system here in the US makes the election of a third party candidate nearly impossible, it does not mean that third parties don’t have the power to create change for our nation. I also learned that folks should keep their eyes on a young upstart politician in the 2028/2032 political cycles: his name is Toby, and he’ll have my vote! Great work, Toby.

Vivian C: Introversion and Extroversion (Sunny Lee) Take it from someone who put the ‘E’ in extrovert; introverts make great leaders, too. Just ask Vivian—a leader in her own right—who showcased how an introvert’s thought process yields well-considered, highly strategic, and powerfully persuasive ideas. Vivian reminded us that this Zoom world might, in fact, have a bright silver lining for the introverts among us who thrived working in this new normal. Great job, Vivian!

Clio B: Representation and the Future of Television (Julia Juster) In the not too distant future, folks may well be laying claim to the privilege of having attended school with the newest and hottest television sitcom writer in their midst. Clio’s passion for scriptwriting, her understanding of direction, and her commitment to equal representation throughout the industry are palpable, as is the clarity with which we can all see her very bright future in the industry. Excellent job, Clio!

Thierrence M: History of Computers (Liz Gray) Smaller, faster, and more powerful with each passing day, computers seem not only to be shaping our world today but shaping tomorrow’s world, too. Just ask our resident expert, Thierrence, whose understanding of the history of computers led him to design his own computing company, Schmintel (“Beyond Technology” is their tag line), and we might all consider buying stock early! Great work, Thierrence.

Amanie Y: Chemotherapy (Abbey Nyland) I learned from Amanie the remarkable history of the discovery of chemotherapy—mustard gas from the first world war!—and the powerful demands it places on the human body, even as it helps fight off the aggression of cancer. I learned, too, of the beauty of connection as Amanie’s interview subject, a most familiar RJ Parsons, was able to help Amanie gain an empathic understanding of the pain, power, and promise of chemotherapy as a treatment. Well done, Amanie.

Rosie S: Animal Consciousness (Carlos Hoyt) An Asian elephant, an octopus, a stingray, an ant, a rat, and a gorilla all walk into the Barn… Not just the start of a quaint joke, these six animals were at the heart of Rosie’s compelling and compassionate research into the consciousness of animals. As Rosie explained, we often project our own emotions onto the consciousness of our pets, so I can only imagine how patient, thoughtful, and insightful the subjects of her study must have been if hers was the consciousness projected. Great job, Rosie!

Audrey W: Beauty (Yui Kitamura) Beauty is… can you complete this sentence? Audrey asked the BDS community to try, and their answers—ranging from “strength” to “in your heart” to “the power to launch 1,000 ships”—all speak to the truth that Audrey shared with us. Beauty is everywhere, has immense power, and its standards can have a dangerous effect on those who aspire to achieve it without understanding it. I also learned that Audrey has many paths before her—as a fashion designer, an entrepreneur, a CEO, or an inspirational public speaker, to name only a few. Whatever direction she chooses, we know it will be a beautiful one. Nice work, Audrey.

Sarah M: Discriminatory Housing Policy (Pati Fernandez) I learned that as recently as 2020, discriminatory housing policies were still oppressing underrepresented populations in our nation. The history Sarah shared about white flight and redlining carries a dark and powerful lesson of the lasting and perilous impact that structural discrimination and racism can have, especially when it is baked into city planning and housing policies. Excellent work, Sarah.

Noah B: Machine Learning in Medicine (Kaleen Moriarty) I learned from Noah that sometimes, excellence is worth the wait. Our last presenter of the year, Noah’s self-designed app can accurately identify pneumonia from an uploaded x-ray with 91% accuracy and can identify close to 200 different dog breeds with similar accuracy as well. The implications are enormous for the medical field and Noah’s future. The medical field is ready and waiting, Noah. Thank you for sharing your comprehensive understanding of machine learning in medicine with us all. Noah’s app is available on the App Store to download if you’re interested. Great job.

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