Students explore potential career fields through Senior Capstones
Reese W. ‘19 was so moved by her middle school math teacher at The Colorado Springs School that she wanted to grow up to be like her.
Misti Johnston, who taught at CSS from 2010 to 2017, was also Reese’s advisor. When Reese was overcome with fear about going on Walkabout in 8th grade, it was Johnston who calmed her.
“I didn’t want to go. But she was there with me during the hikes. I was terrified to go cliff jumping, and she said she’d do it with me, so we went cliff jumping together,” Reese said. “She’s the teacher I want to be. The one where you stick with kids and help them through anything. If I would’ve missed out on that opportunity, I probably would’ve regretted it now. She inspired me to become a teacher because she was so welcoming.”
Now that Reese is graduating, she focused her Senior Capstone on learning more about the day-to-day lives of teachers to see if it’s truly a career she wants to pursue.
Capstones allow seniors to spend three weeks near the end of the school year immersing in an area to further explore it. The program began two years ago at CSS as a way to give seniors a dynamic, culminating experience before graduating.
“It builds on the spirit of experiential learning,” said Anne Taylor, social studies teacher and Capstone director. “We wanted to help our graduates identify their passions and begin to pursue them in the real world before leaving us.”
Unlike Experience Centered Seminars, which are planned by teachers and carried out in groups, students design and lead Capstone.
“The Capstone requires seniors to identify their area of interest, envision their own project, formulate essential questions to guide their experience, conduct informational interviews with professionals outside of CSS, and secure a community mentor who provides guidance during their three-week Capstone,” Taylor said.
Some of the projects seniors selected this year focus on healthcare, making a documentary on international students, small-scale farming, and fields of engineering.
Reese divided her three weeks with elementary students between an independent school, a charter school, and a public school. She graded papers and helped students with assignments. She also interviewed teachers about their journeys through college and what was helpful in obtaining their teacher licenses.
The everyday lives of teachers is what surprised her most. “There is a lot of paperwork and deadlines and a lot of planning. There are a lot of meetings with other teachers. Where you think you have space to sit down and chill and eat a snack, you don’t. You have to talk to the principal about something or write a new lesson plan. I have a lot more respect toward teachers now.”
Reese enjoyed interacting with the students and the Capstone strengthened her interest in becoming a teacher. “My No. 1 choice is to be a teacher. I want to be impactful to other people’s lives and have them remember me like I remember Misti Johnston.”
Jamie B. ‘19 focused his Capstone on exploratory studies in astronomy to see if it’s a career field he might like to pursue. Some of the tasks he did with his community mentor, a principal systems engineer at MITRE, include capturing photos of stars and galaxies, collecting data on magnitudes of stars, and tracking satellites.
“There’s just so much information,” Jamie said. “We’ve talked about the critical angle to view satellites at night. Most satellites can’t be seen because the sun is behind the earth and if they’re too close to the earth, you can’t really see the sun’s reflection. The sun has to be in a position where the sun reflects off the satellite back onto earth when the earth is still in the shade at night.”
Jamie had been interested in astronomy, partly because his dad has a telescope at home. But his Capstone has piqued his interest even more.
“I used to think it was just scary — looking up at the sky and analyzing data,” he said. “I didn’t even know how that was possible. But there’s actually a lot you can determine. An interesting thing is you can actually determine the shape of a satellite based off of the light, the visual magnitude, it’s giving you. You can determine if it’s tumbling or if it’s just sporadic or if it’s a freefall. It’s really cool.”
Payton M. ‘19 grew up hearing about her grandfather’s dentist practice and always thought she might follow in his footsteps. “I thought it might be a good idea to shadow some different dentists before I decide if I want to do that,” she said.
For her Capstone, she paired up with an orthodontist, a general dentist, and a pediatric dentist. The experience was more hands-on than she anticipated. “At the orthodontist, I’ve gotten to put a chain and the O-ties on a patient and got to clean the glue off someone,” she said.
She learned the process of making crowns and from what materials they are made, how to examine X-rays, and the different treatment options for cavities.
“I’ve learned so many different things,” she said. “I think it’s more exciting than I thought it would be. I’ve learned a lot about what a daily life looks like. Some days are really fast and some days are slow.”
Payton is also interested in considering a career in psychology. During her Capstone project, she realized it’s possible to combine dentistry and psychology. She saw this play out in pediatric dentistry, something she was especially drawn to because she enjoys being around children so much.
“Seeing the way they handle the children is inspiring. It’s more of trying to make them feel comfortable so telling them it’s OK, and if they have to get teeth pulled, telling them ‘Here comes the sleepy juice.’ They are trying to keep them comfortable and get the work done at the same time, which I think is bringing in the psychology,” she said. “This has been a good opportunity. I’ve really enjoyed it.”
Please join us for Senior Capstone Reception at 6:00 p.m. Wednesday, May 22, in the Trianon as students share what they learned from their projects. Following Senior Capstone, guests are invited to attend Senior Tributes at 7:00 p.m. in the Louisa Performing Arts Center.