Creating a website of resources for homeless LGBTQIA+ youth, exploring new ways to tell news stories to better engage young people, launching a free social media-based dance studio to make classes more accessible and inclusive, designing a mineral-based mock skin care line, and drafting a graphic novel that promotes strong female role models. These are just a few of the Eighth-Grade Capstone Projects that students presented to their peers and teachers on Wednesday, April 28.
The yearlong project and its counterpart, the Seventh-Grade Design Project, are new in the Middle School this year. They were designed to complement the classroom curriculum and help students further cultivate the skills, competencies, and habits of mind to thrive and be changemakers in the world.
Both grade-level projects center on the essential question: How can I effect meaningful change? Seventh graders have focused on change at a local level, while eighth graders explored how their passions can be conduits for positive change. In addition to identifying an issue or topic they care about and devising a potential solution or product, students have also chosen a U.N. Sustainable Development Goal with which to align their work—goals that students already know well, as they are woven into classes and curricula across campus.
The projects have been scaffolded for students, broken into phases with their own structured activities and deadlines, deliverables, teacher feedback, opportunities for reflection, and even inspiring guest speakers and interviews with experts (including alumnae). But each project has also afforded students plenty of freedom to delve into a topic of their choosing and devise their very own creative solution or product.
Middle School Director Nichole Foster-Hinds explains, “In a time when so much seems out of their control, giving students voice and choice and control over their own learning was essential, timely, and meaningful.”
Because of this room for personalization, students are walking away from the year having learned about so much more than just their topic.
“Doing this project, I’ve had to be very independent,” says Naoko Kinoshita-Ruiz ’25. In creating a website sharing eco-friendly recipes and sustainability tips, she notes, “I had to set my own goals and be my own boss. I think it’s really helped me with those skills. I’ve learned so much about myself and the environment in which I work best.”
Classmate Eliza Dorton ’25 launched an Instagram feed exploring and promoting women in leadership. “It’s really great to have something like this to work on outside of your regular classes,” she says. “I’ve also learned a lot about independence…how to come up with my own ideas, that I can ask for help but that I don’t always have to have someone show me what to do.”
Naoko feels that having to rely on her own ideas and solutions has helped her cultivate a stronger voice.
Through guest speakers and interviews with subject-matter experts, students in both grades have also connected with role models who have shown them how those voices might continue to amplify beyond Holton and make an impact in the world. Alum and entrepreneur Sarah Greisdorf ’17 was among the many alumnae who shared her story and insights with students. The recent college grad spoke with each grade about her new clothing company, Holdette, which makes women’s workwear with real, functioning pockets.
Melina Malkani ’25 says that hearing from Sarah and others like her has been incredibly empowering—particularly because she, like Sarah, chose to launch her own business this year. To promote “Good Health and Well-being” (SDG No. 3), Melina designed a line of essential-oil-infused products to promote relaxation and now sells them on a website she created.
“Ms. Greisdorf started her business from the ground up, which is what we’re basically doing in this project, too,” Melina says. “It’s so nice to get to know someone who was very successful at this.”
As the projects wind down for the year (eighth grade has wrapped up and seventh graders will present their final projects this Wednesday, May 12), Foster-Hinds and grade-level project designers Katie Lavelle (seventh grade) and Lea Hunerkoch (eighth grade) are thrilled about the learning and growth they’ve witnessed this year.
“The evolution from an idea to a product has been beautiful to watch,” says Foster-Hinds. “I’ve particularly loved watching students’ projects change dramatically over time as they’ve delved deeper into research, evolved in their thinking, and focused their efforts.
“Through the projects,” Lavelle explains, “our students were able to make direct connections with content they’ve been learning in classes while simultaneously developing invaluable real-world skills like growth mindset, problem-solving, perseverance, collaboration, communication, and research.”
Hunerkoch says she’s been impressed by many things, including the depth of students’ projects, their support for one another, their ability to reflect on their own learning and areas for growth, and how much they’ve learned about communities with lived experiences different than their own.
She admits that she’s learned a lot, too. “I’ve learned to really trust the process and feel more comfortable with the unknowns of the project. The students really leaned into that, and it was harder for me, but it’s something I will take with me into future endeavors like this.”
“I couldn’t be more in awe of our students, and the teachers who guided and supported them,” Foster-Hinds says.
View some of our seventh graders discussing their year-long projects, including the local issue they’re passionate about and how they plan to address it. Please look for more details about their final projects after their presentations!