It All Starts With a Question

It All Starts With a Question

New to Marlborough this year, Capstone Projects allow highly motivated seniors to pursue a passion outside of the school's core curriculum.

Photo by Eliza Zimmerman '19

It All Starts With a Question

New to Marlborough this year, Capstone Projects allow highly motivated seniors to pursue a passion outside of the school's core curriculum. In these year-long projects, students choose a field of interest largely unrelated to their scholastic work, deepen their knowledge of that field through a combination of research and hands-on experience, identify a specific problem or question within the field, propose a solution, and attempt  to implement that solution in the form of a project or practicum. In many ways, Capstone Projects were inspired by Marlborough’s Honors Research Program, which provides juniors and seniors the opportunity to conduct original research in the lab sciences, humanities and social sciences under the mentorship of an academic expert in the field.

"When a student graduates from Marlborough, I want her to have developed curiosity about the world around her, the skills and determination to tackle the challenges she will face, and the confidence to know she can make a meaningful impact,” said Dr. Priscilla Sands, Head of School. “Much like our Honors Research Programs, Capstone Projects present a wonderful opportunity for our students to begin flexing those muscles.”

For 2018-2019, Capstone Projects were available in Social Justice and the Arts, and between the two programs, nine students were the first to participate.



Building upon their previous work in a particular artform, Capstone in the Arts students design a year-long program of study, practice, and creation under the direction of a Marlborough faculty member. After completing a predetermined program of intensive summer work, during Semester One students will expand upon and refine their understanding of, appreciation for, and abilities in one specific area of focus, culminating with a proposal for a final project in the form of a substantial work of art. Semester Two is dedicated to the design, creation, and execution of the proposed aesthetic piece. The course ends with a reflective commentary on both the process and the final work.

“Dance is a rigorous performance art that requires so much investment on training the body to express poetically,” said Mpambo Wina, Performing Arts Department Head and the mentor for this year’s dance Capstone Projects. “This year, Capstones have given three dancers the opportunity to leave the confines of the studio and stage in order to investigate the history of dance, and link their studies to political and theoretical aspects not examined in the yearly curriculum.”

These three student dancers have chosen specific areas pertinent to the development of dance in the 20th century, such as investigating the influence of early female pioneers, the multifaceted work of the Ballet Russes, and the restoration of the divine embodied in the female form, for their areas of focus.

ELIZA Z. '19

My Capstone Project is an inquiry into dance photography. Specifically, I sought to find a way to capture movement and power in the female body, finding a way to celebrate this expression while avoiding the oversexualization of the form I see in today’s culture. I am largely inspired by the first real dance photographs that began in the early 1900s, photos of dancers such as Anna Pavlova and Isadora Duncan. Although dance had been photographed since the 1830s, the dancer was always posed, always anonymous in a company format. It is not until the early 20th century that we begin to see portraits of movement that focused on the individual dancer. I have taken inspiration from myths centered around the female body and autonomy such as Adam and Eve and Persephone, because they provide a powerfully relevant narrative structure. I have been influenced by the legacy of Lois Greenfield and Chris Nash, as well as photographs of Isadora Duncan and Anna Pavlova.

JOELY M. '19

In learning about Richard Wagner's understanding of Gesamtkunstwerk - a comprehensive work of art - I was intrigued by his aesthetic principles, which privileged the use of multiple art forms to create a piece that provides meaningful commentary on the status of society and human life in general. The overarching question of my research project surrounds the influence of the more classical syntheses of the arts on the later expressionist and modern works of dance that embody Wagner’s aesthetic principles. How did classical ballet impact pieces in which artists were trying to rebel against ballet, and why are so many contemporary choreographers reliant on classically trained dancers today? How did the impresarios or artistic directors and choreographers during different periods of dance use visual art and music to evoke a moral or humanistic message? How did the reaction to German expressionist dance in the early 20th century compare to the reactions provoked by certain controversial works of the Ballets Russes, such as some of Nijinsky’s ballets? And how did it compare to the reactions elicited by late 20th century and modern expressionist dance works, such as those of Pina Bausch?

SOPHIA M. '19 

My Capstone is a study on Isadora Duncan, who was considered to be the mother of modern dance. Duncan’s work had a strong connection to the restoration of divinity in movement as practiced in ancient Greece. In creating a choreographic essay based on Duncan’s autobiography, I have focused on the comprehensive understanding of the artistic culture throughout Duncan’s life, taking inspiration from writers such as Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau. This revival of holy movement proved a driving force in Duncan’s life, as her intention was to bring back the idea that dance was a form of expression used to celebrate the divine as opposed to a means of pure entertainment.


Social justice is a concept of fair and just relations between the individual and society. This is measured by the explicit and tacit terms for the distribution of wealth, opportunities for personal activity and social privileges. Students participating in a Social Justice Capstone course gain insight into policy and social justice by working directly with a local nonprofit organization. During the first semester, students identify a specific need related to the organization's mission and then formulate an action plan to meet this need based on their volunteer work and their research. Semester Two is dedicated to the implementation and execution of the action plan. The course ends with a reflection of successes, failures, and findings.

“Social Justice Capstones offer students a learning opportunity that could never take place in a classroom,” said Pamela Wright, Dean of Social Justice and Community Partnerships. “This experiential learning is crucial to foster empathy and perspective.”

Partner: Para Los Niños

Para Los Niños has six early education centers, three charter schools, and six student and community centers fostering “pathways to success through excellence in education, powerful families, and strong communities for children and youth to thrive.” They serve 6,000 children, youth, and families each year through social services like education, community building, and mental health care.

I wanted to partner with Para Los Niños because I am passionate about working with children and I was really interested in PLN’s commitment to engaging with the entire community. Specifically, I’ve had the opportunity to experience the work they do surrounding social emotional learning and childhood trauma, which ties together my interests in mental health and education.

Every time I walk through the door I experience something I could never learn about at school. I’ve had the opportunity to engage with the children in the after-school program and really form relationships with them. There have been many times in the classroom that my ideas about what makes a good teacher have been challenged, which has forced me to think more about what I see myself doing in the future.

One of the big issues I have seen in the after-school program is the lack of awareness about social emotional learning and effective practices for classroom management. I was frustrated by some of the strategies I saw being used to discipline the kindergarteners, like taking away play time. I was able to discuss this with my mentor and decided to create a resource of strategies that are trauma informed and more in line with the philosophy of the school. I am still figuring out exactly what this resource will look like and am currently doing research about various tools PLN might be able to implement that will hopefully be made available to the teachers.

Partner: Korean American Coalition

The Korean American Coalition is based in Koreatown Los Angeles, and aims to promote the interests of Korean-American Angelenos living across the city.

Having lived in Los Angeles my entire life, I have always felt culturally American, much more so than Korean. Going into the Capstone course, I knew I wanted to do something that would connect me further to my heritage and culture. Last year, I became aware of the issue of gentrification, specifically in Koreatown and central LA, and how it disproportionately affects Korean-Americans. With the creation of new developments, including luxury apartments and shopping centers, rent prices have increased, and low-income and elderly tenants have been forced out of their homes. I wanted to learn more about the issue and how it affects the Korean-American population specifically as a means of connecting myself to my culture more.

I am working on a documentary to promote awareness about the issue of gentrification and its ramifications. I have interviewed tenants, landlords, residents, business owners, lawyers, professors, and community activists. Gentrification is a rarely discussed issue, and I wanted to bring it to everyone's attention, especially as movements related to rent control and the housing crisis have been growing. I will share the finished project with Central LA local government representatives, nonprofits, Korean churches and public schools in Koreatown. My hope is that the people who receive and watch the documentary share it with their peers as well, promoting an understanding of gentrification and its relation to low-income Koreatown residents.

RAMI P. '19
Partner: Children of the Night

Children of the Night is a privately funded nonprofit organization established in 1979 with the specific purpose to provide intervention in the lives of children who are sexually exploited and vulnerable to or involved in prostitution and pornography. In the Without Walls (WOW) program, students receive one-on-one tutoring in math, science, social studies, and reading in preparation for high school equivalency exams (such as the GED), while international students are able to study English.

Without consistently working alongside the amazing people at Children of the Night and the inspiring students, I would have never been able to see the lasting impact of their work: the sense of accomplishment in students after learning a new lesson, the joy of passing their first and last GED tests, and even having former students call to say they've enrolled/graduated from college. The sound of excitement and genuine pride when we call to let students know they've passed one of their GED tests is always rewarding. Most students have had very few people supporting them throughout their lives, so to witness their progress and success is inspiring.

One unexpected challenge was having to adjust with the organization as they made the transition away from shelter-based programs into online resources. I was able to gain a lot more from the experience because I became a part of the building process, but I had to learn and develop with the people beside me and without a set structure.

With resources newly allotted to the WOW program, the program leaders were just beginning to restructure the tutoring process to include more effective and engaging teaching. During this time, I noticed that the study guides I would email to students consisted of PDFs with paragraphs of information and definitions. Taking from my own learning experiences, I suggested Quizlet and Google Drive as a possible method for more engaging learning and more efficient teaching. In the next months, I created Quizlets to correspond with each lesson and study guide so that students who usually didn’t have access to computers, work multiple jobs, and often have children, could easily access study resources from their phones. Utilizing Quizlet has provided students with an easy, accessible, and effective study solution.

JENNA S. '19
Partner: Proyecto Pastoral

Proyecto Pastoral works to empower the community of Boyle Heights through grassroots projects in education, service, and leadership. One of their programs, Impacto, is a free after-school and summer program for Boyle Heights kids up to 8th grade. The program includes field trips, activities, homework help, academic lessons, play time, and more. Over 5,000 children and families are reached each year through their efforts.

In the process of finding a nonprofit,  it was extremely important to me to find a place where I could form deep emotional connections with people. So, working closely with the same kids and teachers fulfilled that want.  I also appreciated that my presence would be helpful. I think that a lot of times outside volunteers come into a place with the belief that no matter what they do they will be a positive influence, but I believe that intentions and time are not enough to guarantee positive change. So, I tried to make sure that the organization would not only impact me positively but that I could also find something that my skill set could help.

Even though I felt before starting that I understood many complexities of various realities like abuse, immigration, wealth, privilege, and more, my proximity to these lived experiences made me deepen my understanding of these realities and my awareness of my distance to them. These conversations with people about their lived experiences forced me to more strongly confront my privilege and further my understanding of how to be a traitor to these systems that support the layers of oppression.

Throughout my time at Impacto, I did not maintain that my goal was ever to fix or change a problem. So, I approached the project by listening and talking with teachers, administrators, and kids. I wanted my project to fulfill a need that lasted after I left and be something I cared about. So, I am working on developing a restorative justice based manual for teachers that contains techniques and activities for them to employ. The activities hopefully with facilitate connection among the students and between students and teachers.

EMILY Y. '19
Partner: No Limits for Deaf Children

No Limits for Deaf Children's mission is to teach underserved deaf children and their families the skills to succeed in school and in life through its after-school educational centers and distinguished theater arts program, promoting advocacy and awareness worldwide.

I was diagnosed with hearing loss in kindergarten. Due to my unilateral deafness, I struggled with a speech impediment and learning challenges. My personal experiences made me recognize the importance of the emotional support, education, and therapeutic resources that I luckily received. I discovered No Limits in hopes of helping other hard of hearing children succeed in their daily lives.

My Capstone started with the desire to help hard of hearing people struggling financially afford hearing aids. As a hearing aid user, I know that the cost can reach more than $4,000. But, my plan for fundraising changed when I interviewed the No Limits staff on what was really needed and that was individual auditory, speech, and language therapy. The therapy and training with a certified teacher of the deaf cost up to $200, which is not accessible to underserved families. After brainstorming for ways to support my local deaf community, was born. I learned how to create a website, form a charitable organization, manage and distribute donations, and curate a public service announcement. I soon crafted handmade “Hearings,” colorful hoop earrings embellished with dangly stars as incentives to donate. Each contribution allowed deaf children to receive life changing services that will teach them to confidently communicate and connect with the world around them. Fundraising is the glue that runs the non profits and allows all the programs to function. I am very proud of my work.

Partner: Alexandria House

Alexandria House (AH) is a transitional house for women and children who are in need of immediate shelter in Los Angeles and serves as a housing community for women to live while they can secure a job and permanent housing.

As soon as I stepped through the door, I was able to feel the infectious optimism and collaborative nature that manifests itself in Alexandria House. I was looking for a place that fostered positivity and prosperity, as well as a strong sense of community, and AH offers just that. I also think that coming from an all-girls school, I was really drawn to the executive office, which is completely run by women, most of which are women of color.

My Capstone Project is essentially creating a multi-platform newsletter and overall resource for past and present residents to find things to do around LA outside of Alexandria house. Whether it be a recurring art class, or a political activism group, or a hiking group, I think it's important for residents to be able to find an activity and community that they love and feel comfortable with outside of their home. I think that it's really easy to forget that Alexandria House is the home of so many women, which means that is where residents spend ALL of their time. Getting into a new environment with new people makes people feel more happy and lively, which positively contributes to the mental health of each and every resident. Also, if residents are looking for employment and they do not know where their passion lies, trying out these different activities across many different disciplines can expose women to possible career paths.


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