Curiosity fuels senior capstone course

Sara Creato

Although seniors at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) can choose to enroll in a traditional English course, they also have the option of a more independent, project-based class called Capstone. Capstone, which has been offered at MVRHS for the past four years, differs from a regular English class because it emphasizes self-guided learning and culminates with the presentation of an independent project at the end of the semester.

English department chair Christine Ferrone co-teaches the course with school librarian Kevin McGrath. 

“Students essentially come to the class with a curiosity or a passion that they want to develop,” Ms. Ferrone said. In order to guide students towards the completion of their projects, the course is divided into three phases: discover, design, and deliver. 

Senior Zach Ward is developing the fly-tying business he started with a friend in the summer. “We loved to tie flies and we were selling them to our friends,” Zach said. “We’re friends with the people who own the fly tackle shops and they were like ‘we’ll buy them, sure.’ So we decided to tie more and create a company.” 

Currently, Zach has created his website with a logo, pages about himself, and a photo gallery. He also has five types of flies for sale and is still selling to the local tackle shops. His goal is to have his website completed with the addition of a blog, videos, and photographs of all of his flies.

For senior Leo Neville, Capstone is a way to transition into a bioengineering career. “I took Capstone as a segway to college, and I really wanted to do something that I could see [myself] doing in the future as a job when I’m an adult,” said Leo. 

He is designing a prosthetic arm using 3D printing and a website called e-NABLE, a nonprofit organization that helps people in need get 3D printed prosthetics shipped to them free of costs. The goal of his project is not only to manufacture his own prosthetic but to investigate the quality of 3D printed prosthetics already on the market as well.

Some students, like senior Ana Clara Ribeiro, entered the course before committing to a project idea. When her friend and fellow senior Hemilly Nascimento introduced the idea of starting an American Sign Language (ASL) club, Ana Clara was interested. She credits her enthusiasm for languages with motivating her to participate in the project. 

“I really became interested because I’m bilingual. I love languages. I really want to learn more languages, so that’s really what interested me about that was being able to accomplish this and in the future, learn sign language and being able to communicate with that culture,” she said. As of now, Ana Clara and Hemilly are continuing to learn sign language using videos and are in the process of organizing their first club meeting.

Keeping students engaged during remote learning can pose a challenge, but Mr. McGrath believes Capstone is easier to teach remotely than other courses. 

“From the teacher’s perspective, it’s been a class that is probably easier to translate into remote than other classes because it’s so individually driven, so a lot of the work you can do from home,” he said. 

“It’s also a great opportunity to network and connect and to see the Island as a resource or even outside the Island,” said Ms. Ferrone. “The real thrust here is about authentic work, about doing real world projects that actually aren’t for a teacher or for a grade, but because you have something you want to share.”