Monday, August 02, 2021

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GHS Capstone Offers Students Chance to Engage in a Pandemic-Altered World

For more than a decade, Guilford High School (GHS) students have each year taken part in a school program known as the Capstone Project, which asks them to whittle down an area of interest in their lives to a tangible initiative, presentation, or object, and after months of work, present them to the broader community.

In the program’s decade-long history, there has been nothing comparable to the 2020-’21 school year.

Despite all the disruptions and barriers, Capstone Coordinator Nicole McDonald said that, as students began the virtual staging of their projects, the program has seen increased participation and encompasses an especially relevant and representative slate of issues around this year.

“What I really appreciate about the students is it is less about the problem and more about the solution,” McDonald said.

Currently available to be viewed over Zoom, with presentations running from June 3 to 15, the projects run the gamut, focusing on student interests ranging from music to ecology to sports.

But McDonald said some very clear themes emerged this year as students sought mentors outside the school to guide them in their research and began putting together their projects.

Of the approximately 50 students who participated this year, 10 made their projects primarily about mental health and mental health issues. Capstone additionally partnered with Guilford Youth & Family Services and the newly formed student-led Mental Health Alliance for a whole day dedicated to mental health issues, including guest speakers and presentations to go along with the student projects.

“We all know that mental health has been on the forefront of minds with this pandemic,” McDonald said. “With students having to participate in distance learning and not be able to see friends and lack of routine and structure. I think this was just on the forefront of their minds.”

With on-and-off remote school for most of the year and left with plenty of isolation and alone-time even outside of school, McDonald said she saw many students turn even more introspective in these projects, and used the Capstone model to try to explore and make sense of the often overwhelming pressures or changes in the world around them.

“You can’t help but think about, ‘What can I do to change this and make this better?’” she said. “I would say that a lot of students wanted to maximize their time at home and limited time that they could go places.”

Guided by expert mentors, whom they likely never met in person, according to McDonald, this year’s Capstones saw students take on criminal justice, social media, music, local environmental issues, and the specific effects of the pandemic on industries or lifestyles, forced to be even more independent than they have in the past.

“[Capstone was] less of another class and task for the student, and more of like a self-exploration,” McDonald said. “[It was] a way to be creative, a way to kind of combat this experience that has been really difficult for a lot of students.”

Without conferences to go to or sites to visit, GHS kids worked extra hard and “didn’t miss a beat,” leveraging Capstone as the school cut back on the size of certain extracurricular classes and making their own learning experiences, according to McDonald.

Putting these projects and research out into the community is also especially important this year, with parents and other community members missing out on opportunities to listen to students talk about what is important to them, according to McDonald—not just social issues or mental health, but even more fun, everyday projects like home-made dyes and how baseball bats are manufactured.

“Every single one of them has really had the chance to complete something, delve into something and really be proud of it,” she said. “I can impactful it is for the students.”

For more information, including the schedule and links to join the virtual presentations, visit


Jesse Williams covers Guilford and Madison for Zip06. Email Jesse at

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