Brendan Largay, Head of School

BrendanLargay, Head of School

Capstone Week 2024: Learn, Do, Share

Every year, the build-up to Capstone Week is palpable. Students carefully finalize their presentations, mentors shuffle schedules to ensure a final touchpoint with their mentees, and communication from the dynamic Capstone partners and guides Dean Spencer and Jen Friborg picks up in coordination and with a true anticipatory buzz. This week, Capstone arrived in all of its glory. Excellence, joy, respect, and caring were all on full display, and true inspiration and challenge were shared by our eighth grade scholars with the rest of the community. Capstone week is one of my proudest as the head of Belmont Day, and this year’s version did not disappoint. What follows here is a brief synopsis of each of our wonderful eighth graders, their mentors, and their topics. They are as broad and diverse as they are informative and compelling. Enjoy and have a wonderful April break everyone.

Note: The faculty mentors are in parentheses by the student’s name.

Olivia G. (Ms. Crawford)How Do Police Dogs Impact Our Community?”

There is nothing quite like going first, and we were lucky to have such a confident, talented public speaker kick us off. I learned that canine police work isn’t for every pup: only 6% of dogs can complete training and join the force.

Sam L. (Mr. Walker) “Economic System: Defining, Measuring, Comparing”

Let’s be clear: the Fed has nothing on Sam Leviton. Sam’s expertise and understanding of macroeconomics and how a mixed market economic system is the healthiest global economic system because of the values it reinforces for a given nation is the stuff of post-graduate business school. 

Rhys K. (Ms. Aslam) “At the Top of The Arch: Why Keystone Species Are Important”

From Rhys, I learned that apex predators are critical players in upholding entire ecosystems but are misunderstood. His study of the grey wolf and its impact on the health of Yellowstone National Park was a riveting exercise in counterintuition and reconstruction of an important ecosystem.

Charis L. (Ms. Sprung) “Dopamine: What Makes You Happy?”

The sources of natural dopamine—time spent with family and friends, moments in nature, or memories of positive moments in our past—aren’t just indicators of a life well lived; they are neurological superchargers with far more power to transmit happiness than the addicting allure of social media or a sugar high. One source of dopamine for us is Charis’ fabulous presentation.

Kalkidan S. (Mr. Santos) “Ancient Architecture in Ethiopia”

All hail, Queen Kalkidan and the የካልኪዳን ቤት እና ቤተመንግስት። (house and castle of Kalkidan). Kalkidan spoke with the expertise of a true Ethiopian art historian, fully conversant in her country’s rich history and the cultures that its past kings shaped. She gave her entire presentation without referring to a single note card!

Jovana Z. (Ms. Dempsey) “Musical Theater: An Original American Art”

We will leave some room on the marquee for Jovana alongside Rodgers and Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, and Lin Manuel Miranda. A young woman with a passion and vision for musical theater, Jovana’s talent extends from research to writing to creating a score, all in the name of a genuine love for musical theater.

Owen B-L. (Ms. Halton) “The Ancient Olympic Games”

With a passion for sport, Owen explained the origin and spirit of the ancient Olympics, a place where honor and skill reigned even as the Roman empire brought the games to their end in 393 CE. The eclipse, which Owen experienced immediately before presenting, did nothing to slow him down; it set the tone for an excellent ancient exploration. 

Theo K. (Ms. Trentowsky) “Viruses”

As an aspiring doctor, Theo K is already farther along in his educational journey than most pre-med students. With a comprehensive understanding of viruses and how they can be used to attack some of medicine’s most confounding illnesses, Theo walked us through how a virus’s mRNA can help counter cancer and, more recently, COVID-19.

Grace S. (Mrs. Armstrong) “Color Psychology: Influencing More than the Eyes”

From Grace, I learned that the psychology of color is just one of the ways that marketers appeal to our subconscious as much as our conscious minds and that the red and yellow of McDonald’s golden arches are as much about elevating our heart rate as they are about a delicious cheeseburger. I also learned that Grace will always seek the opportunity to learn and explore more, as evidenced by her five paintings and three interviews.

Carter B. (Mrs. Bright) “Quantum Computers: Small but Mighty”

Quantum computing: I could explain it to you, but that would require a degree of understanding closer to Carter’s. Suffice it to say, it’s mind-bending, confusing, fast, and fascinating, and Carter has a graduate-level understanding of it. As they say, knowledge is power, and Carter seems to know how to break the universe. He could tell you about it, too, but he’d rather keep that secret and, in so doing, keep us all from being deleted.

Clive S. (Mr. Sussman)Dementia: The Future of Care and Research”

While Clive’s presentation was full of critically important information about dementia and the advances in treatment, his love, care, and empathy truly shined. As Clive observes, the future is complicated as science seeks to understand the complexity of this illness. With folks like Clive investigating dementia, the future is bright.

Sal P. (Ms. MacKillop) “Fairy Tales: Are They Really for Kids?”

The future of fairy tales is in good, just, and equitable hands. Sal’s presentation reminded us of the built-in stereotypes, particularly those that inhibit women, that exist throughout Grimm’s fairy tales (though they didn’t write many of them) and Disney. Sal invited us to imagine a world where a female knight might save a man in distress, and the inaction of a father may earn its rightful place in the true story of a young female heroine.

Quinn C. (Mr. Beatty) “Airline Deregulation: An Experiment in the Free Market”

Who could have imagined the impact of the first commercial flight? For Quinn, it inspired a lifelong curiosity about aviation and the eventual deregulation of the industry, which, in turn, led him to reflect on free market ideology, political maneuvering, and the chance to save a few bucks on an intercontinental flight.  

Foster L. (Mr. Staples) “Activism in Sports”

A talented young athlete in his own right, Foster has his eyes cast in the right direction, considering how to leverage sports’ powerful platform for the greater social good. Whether presenting with raised fists on the Olympic platform or as Colin Kaepernick taking a knee, Foster chronicled how activism in athletics has expanded beyond the field and made lasting impacts.

Eleanor S. (Mrs. Holman) “Who’s Writing Her Music? She Is.”

Eleanor, passionate, talented, and deeply invested in supporting women’s voices in the music industry, explained how sexism inhibits great musical artists from being recognized. Despite the challenges, Eleanor wrote her own EP, Okay Sometimes, available in a limited edition with five tracks. If the demos she shared with us are any indication, she will break down some of those barriers herself.

Ariel D. (Mr. Smith) “Cybernetic Enhancements: The Recipe for a Cyborg”

Leave it to Ariel to help us see the future of medicine tucked behind the mask of Darth Vader. A student of cybernetic enhancements, Ariel walked us through how doctors might use cybernetic prosthetics to provide legs, arms, or hands for those who need them. She also understands the ethics of the work and will be a fine ambassador for it in the future, which is pretty cool since one of her expert interviews was with a BDS alum doing this work as a graduate student at Harvard.

Brynn F. (Ms. Ryan) “Bloodstain Pattern Analysis: Science or Theory”

One phrase you wouldn’t expect to hear at Belmont Day is, “The distance from the victim plays an important role in analyzing the blood pattern of the wound.” Yet, that’s where Brynn led us in her presentation. A true crime lover, Brynn already has a three-episode podcast and a garage that was her fictional crime scene, fake bloodstain.

Julia S. (Ms. Jay) “Mirroring Behavior”

With the confidence and empathy of a burgeoning psychologist, Julia’s presentation was about the behavior known as mirroring—where we reflect on behaviors or expressions to understand them better. Julia’s story was full of promise and a reminder of the challenges we faced during the pandemic when masks inhibited the critical formation of those mirroring instincts.

Louis C. (Mrs. Rooney) “Where Does Your Salmon Come From?”

Ever wonder why some fish are more oily than others or where the fish on your plate came from? Louis has the answer. A lifelong fisherman with a big heart and a thorough understanding of the fishing industry, Louis taught us about the different styles and sources of fishing that help to determine everything from the cost of the fish to the impact on health. If you’re eager to learn more, you can always read his children’s book, now available in the Erskine Library.

Jaden P. (Ms. Kikuchi) “From the Abacus to the Smartphone: The Evolution of Computers”

I will assume that Jaden’s check is in the mail for the BDS Chromebook he disassembled as part of his Capstone project, or perhaps he’ll simply build us a few new ones. His understanding of computers would enable him to do so. Jaden shared the remarkable history—and speed—of computer development through the lens of Belmont Day.

Liv D. (Mrs. Pryor) “Living with Dyslexia”

Liv is a powerful advocate for students with learning differences, and she will leave a meaningful legacy at BDS when she graduates this June. Her presentation echoed the story she has been sharing during her time here: that dyslexia is a superpower she would never give up. The skills she has developed are rooted in strength, and she has grown with confidence and extended branches of understanding to others throughout the school.

Andrew G. (Ms. Gray) “Performance-Enhancing Habits: What You Can Do to Get to the Top”

Leave it to one of Belmont Day’s most prolific athletes to guide us through a presentation on the proper (and easy!) steps we can take to improve our athletic performance. Diet, exercise, and sleep – plenty of sleep! Andrew spoke with the confidence of an athlete stepping to the line to sink a critical free throw or execute the perfect pass: poised, confident, and knowledgeable.

Lucy Y. (Mrs. Smith) “Nuclear Physics: From Deadly Weapons to Clean Energy”

With the sophistication of a college professor and the flexibility of a true scientist, Lucy guided us through her comprehensive understanding of nuclear energy and how her study and topic changed from start to finish. Initially a study of Oppenheimer and the atomic bomb, Lucy captivated us with her understanding of nuclear energy and its benefits.

Yaseen S. (Mr. Hamilton) “The Arts and the Ancient Olympics”

Whether presenting as himself or as the ancient runner, Apollo, Yaseen mesmerized us with his tales of ancient Olympic glory. More than that, his work in creating amphoras, the ancient clay jars upon which the Olympic feats of the athletes were featured, was an impressive mix of his love of athletics and art.

William L. (Mr. Tzelnic) “Flow and Happiness”

At the start, William’s counsel will only require five minutes of your dedicated energy. Anyone can muster their attention and focus for five minutes, right? Well, as William eloquently explained, those five minutes may very well be your entryway to the state of flow—when you are so entranced by and entrenched in a project or an idea that time passes quickly and you operate efficiently. There are other tips to get there, of course, and William knows them all, but don’t bother him if he’s in a flow state himself.

Clem C. (Ms. Solomon) “Power and Fashion”

Preparing for that important interview? Want to make an impression on your teachers or students? A quick consult with Clem may help you out. Their understanding of the relationship between power and fashion and how it has influenced kings and queens as far back as Cleopatra and Queen Elizabeth is as impressive as Lady Gaga’s famous ‘meat dress.’

Charlie R. (Mr. Murray) “Sports Agents”

Aspiring athletes across any number of sports at the amateur or professional level may have another option for representation in the coming years: RISE Sports Agency, led by CEO and Belmont Day eighth grader Charlie R, is entering the market. With a deep understanding of everything from NILs to contract commissions, Charlie explained the benefits of sports agents and their important roles in modern-day athletics.

Zach C. (Mr. d’Arbeloff) “Brewing Billions: The Economics of Coffee”

Wake up, everyone. Zach has important information regarding where your coffee is coming from, its impact on the grower’s local economy (25% of Peru’s GDP comes from coffee exports, for example), and how many Americans (an eye-dilating 72%!) drink it daily. Just don’t ask Zach to drink any himself. He hates the stuff.

Simon W. (Mr. Baird) “How Weather Forecasts Work”

If only Simon and I had been in touch on the morning of February 13 when a prediction of 7-13” of snowfall prompted a snow day call. The actual slushy inch and a half of snow was not what anyone expected. Simon’s understanding of weather and how predictive technology has advanced was quite impressive. As someone who has to play ‘meteorologist’ from time to time, he may very well be my expert call in the future.

Cassie G. (Mr. Largay) “Muscle Recovery: How to Get Back on the Field”

I say it every year, but sometimes mentors learn more than their mentees. That was certainly the case this year, as Cassie’s expertise in muscle recovery, her passion for fueling athletes properly, and her love of sport were abundantly clear from start to finish. The world of sports training may have a well-studied expert joining its ranks in the future. Cassie just has to finish her NWSL career first!

Luke B. (Ms. Rochford ‘93) “Sustainable Architecture”

Luke’s interview with the architects who brought the Barn to Belmont Day served as a reminder of all that goes into building a new structure. Luke has his eyes set on ensuring the industry keeps the environment in mind. From carbon-catching concrete to sustainable materials shipments in the construction process, Luke shared a comprehensive understanding of a critical way to fight climate change through architecture and design.

Tadgh O. (Dr. Starks-Chaves) “Carbon Emissions: Pathways to Reduction”

With sophisticated expertise and a lengthy list of high-profile interviewees, Tadgh’s presentation on reducing carbon emissions was the stuff of college seminars and keynote speakers. Whether challenging federal policy or effectively articulating the misleading practice of ‘greenwashing,’ Tadgh informed us how we might help save the world at a macro-scale. 

Alexander M. (Profe Restrepo) “Anatomy of a Bestseller”

Coming soon to a bookstore near you is The Three Faces of James, Alexander’s sure-to-be bestseller, inspired by his own experience receiving anesthesia during treatment for a broken arm. A study of what makes a bestseller—from book tours to excellent writing to an eye-popping cover design—will inform Alexander’s likely success as an author.

Madoka H. (Ms. DeVecchi ’75) “AAPI Discrimination in the US”

Heartfelt, personal, and fueled by an evident passion, Madoka walked the audience through the difficult history of AAPI discrimination in the United States and its recent reemergence during the pandemic. Madoka’s beautiful artwork tells a story of love, hope, and heartbreak, and her compelling presentation left the audience to share the balance of pain and hope that Madoka conveyed.

Veronica W. (Mme. Pellenq) “It’s Been a Long Time Coming: The Phenomenon of Taylor Swift”

Are you ready for it? Don’t confuse Veronica’s in-depth analysis of Taylor Swift’s impact on everything from the music industry to local economies with the passion of simply being a Swiftie.  Veronica’s clear understanding of the legal maneuvering in Taylor Swift’s journey to liberate her music and how Taylor uses her voice to uplift others is compelling. Don’t ask Veronica what her favorite Taylor Swift song is—there are too many to choose from.

Roudi Y. (Ms. Small) “Brain Development: Mind Blowing!”

Progress in brain science has never been moving more quickly, and Roudi is well prepared for it. A scholar of neuroscience and neuropsychology, her time with pre-k, kindergarten, and third grade students shed light on how children hit developmental milestones consistent with all we know (or rather all that Roudi taught us!) about the brain.

Kaden F. (Mr. O’Neill) “Steroids in Baseball”

Bonds, Clemens, A-Rod. The list of known steroid users in baseball is long, but the knowledge of how these drugs work and why athletes are willing to risk a spot in the MLB Hall of Fame by using them is less widely known. Thank goodness for Kaden, his love of the sport, and his comprehensive understanding of the issue. His two tape statues of players on and off steroids are clear and convincing.

August W. (Mr. Phan) “Secession Movements: Creating a Country”

The secession of one nation from under the rule of another sounds like the stuff of Revolutionary history. Still, with a global historian like August to guide us, we learned of more than 200 attempts at secession happening worldwide today. Colonization, culture, religion, or justice lie at the heart of these movements, and if you’re wondering where they’re taking place, August has a giant map to show you.

Sophie J. (Ms. Yepez) “Synesthesia: Mixing the Senses”

What color is the letter Q to you? What shape does the smell of a delicious dinner take?  Synesthesia, the sensory experience of one sense activating or replacing another, is more common than you think, and synesthetes like Sophie understand that her senses are more superpower than distraction.

Annika V. (Mrs. Morris) “Organized Athletics and Child Development”

Through her studies and athletics journey, Annika may know as much as anyone about youth sports’ impact on childhood development. From overuse injuries and the challenges of specialization to appropriate stretching for young, developing athletes, Annika is a font of information and a teacher, coach, and mentor in the making.

Rami F. (Mrs. Bettinelli) “Exploring the Oceans with Submarines”

From the first submersible used during the Revolutionary War to the submersible used to study the wreck of the Titanic, submarines are at the forefront of the frontier of oceanographic discovery, and Rami Flummerfelt is right there, too. Having created a 3-D printed model of the Titanic and a remote control submersible, Rami brought his audience on a virtual journey to the ocean floor, even if he’d likely decline an invitation for the real thing.

Anna B. (Ms. Twarog) “The Pros and Cons of Artificial Intelligence”

Naturally curious, Anna’s fascination with AI puts her at the forefront of a movement that will transform the shape of the future, which is already reshaping the present: artificial intelligence. Anna’s hope in humanity and understanding of AI’s limitations should give us all hope. Though I will confess, I’m less inclined to refer to Siri or Alexa as ‘weak AI.’ They are, after all, always listening!

Eva P. (Teacher Cotner) “Dancing Around the Truth: Ballet’s Effects on Health”

With the delicate balance of a talented ballet dancer, Eva acknowledged ballet’s beauty, wonder, rigor, and elegance as a sport and art form while simultaneously acknowledging its problematic impact on mental and physical health. Eva’s poetry and choreography beautifully capture this paradox, and her love of ballet never diminished through it all.

Gideon B. (Ms. Buck) De-extinction: Reviving the Past to Preserve the Future

Move over, Michael Crichton. Gideon is here to let us know that the fictional world of Jurassic Park and the revival of the dinosaurs might be closer to becoming reality than we think. With the expertise of a learned scientist and biotechnologist, Gideon’s clear explanation of the CRISPR gene editing technology and the possibilities it may unlock for the future were riveting. His board game design about de-extinction was delightful, and his rap to thank everyone was the stuff of legend.

BrendanLargay, Head of School

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