Skip To Main Content
Students’ Curiosity and Talents on Full Display in the GFS Eighth Grade Capstone Projects

This year marked the third year of the GFS eighth grade capstone projects, one of the signature programs in Middle School. In this unique introduction to self-directed study, each student undertakes a months-long endeavor to engage with a question of their choosing through hands-on or experiential work and intellectual exploration. 

The process began in the fall, when the eighth grade students were given journaling assignments during advisory, like “I’m happiest when…” and “I’ve always wondered about…” These prompts encouraged them to reflect on topics or issues that spark their curiosity. Then, in November, they narrowed it down to one burning question that became the nucleus of their eighth grade capstone project. 

Next, each student’s question was fleshed out into a proposal which was first presented to their advisor, and then to their parents or caretakers at the fall family-teacher conference. 

The students were organized into groups that shared similar or related questions and topics. These groups were supported by adults in the community, mostly GFS faculty, who are specialists in relevant subjects. Those folks met with the students throughout the year during afternoon Capstone Labs to lend expertise and mentorship. 

“We partnered with the students and advisors to help them pull their plans off,” says Rachel Reynolds, GFS Eighth Grade Dean, Middle School English teacher, and Sexuality and Gender Alliance (SAGA) faculty advisor. “Right out of the gate, we were talking to kids in a really individualized way: You ask the question, and we’ll provide you with resources to figure it out.” 

The heart of the process, from inquiry to execution, was entirely student-led.

“The kids got to have agency over project planning—they got to be their own boss,” Reynolds said. “This speaks to where they are developmentally at this age.”

After steadily working on their projects during the winter and spring, the eighth graders presented their capstone projects to the community in May. First on Monday, May 13, they held a preview for the seventh graders. The experience gave them a chance to practice their presentation skills, and served to inspire the younger students about their upcoming capstone projects. It also helped create social connections between the two grades.

“The kids got to write the story about what they want to share about themselves and how they want to be seen by their peers,” noted Reynolds.  

Later that evening, the Eighth Grade Capstone Showcase welcomed friends and family to campus. The students set up tri-fold presentations, and any other physical components of their projects, in classrooms and common spaces in the Hargroves Student Center and the Wade Science Center. 

In the 2023-24 school year, there was a large percentage of capstone projects based on science, art, or the intersection of both. 

Noa Abrams asked a big question: “Who Am I Really?” She started by submitting a DNA test to, which traced her ethnicity to Nigeria, Cameroon, Congo, Western Bantu, Mali, Benin, and Togo, among other countries. Then, she cooked and shared three dishes that represented the nations where the DNA test reported her highest ethnicity percentages: jollof rice from Nigeria, riz gras from Burkina Faso, and puff puff from Cameroon. 

“I was really excited to get the results,” Abrams said of the DNA test. “My family has never used, so we all got to learn about our background.”

Other questions adhered to a more straightforward “yes” or “no” format. 

Juliet Park’s project, “Can I Learn to Ollie?” documented her journey of teaching herself to execute a popular skateboarding trick through daily practice (including a lot of falls) and drills. Thanks to her rigorous training, Park did in fact learn to ollie, which in turn reinvigorated her childhood love of skateboarding. 

“Can I Make a Victorian Evening Gown Out of Newspaper?” was the query that sent Giulia Di Benedetto on an epic fashion quest. Throughout this time-consuming project, she learned varying skills, like how to subdivide large projects and work consistently over months; how to draft patterns and take measurements; and how to create strong materials from newsprint.    

Other questions opened doors to shared experiences. Will Brawner and Alexander Kranzel, who created the first-ever collaborative eighth grade capstone project, asked “Can We Run a Successful Basketball Clinic?”

In the winter, the duo organized a two-week basketball workshop for seventh graders, which met three times each week. They both firmly agreed that their clinic was a success, and that it helped them to realize how challenging coaching is, and how much there is to teach in athletics beyond physical fundamentals.

“We noticed that a lot of the kids in our clinic improved at things like leadership and building relationships,” said Kranzel. “We also learned how important it is to listen when you’re a coach.” 

Keino Terrell, Director of Middle School, noted that a key component of this project was preparing GFS eighth graders for the self-guided assignments ahead in Upper School and beyond. 

“This was a formidable intellectual pursuit for students as they engaged with self-directed learning from a place of higher accountability, hopefully tethering them to the idea that learning can be personal," he said.

The capstones also provided a platform to highlight and acknowledge each student’s talents and passions before their Middle School experience comes to a close.

“The students had a real sense of pride about their work, and the kids really supported one another, showing genuine curiosity about the pursuits of their peers,” Terrell shared. “Every kid got to shine bright during the Capstone Showcase. It was such a celebratory way to be in community together.”