Capstone Spotlight: Cat Jordan Learns to Teach

As the finishing touch to their Oak Knoll experience, seniors embark on an independent exploration of an area of career interest during May. They explore fields ranging from corporate to creative, from self-employment to service-oriented. Their only limitation is the depth of their curiosity. Capstones challenge students to demonstrate their passion for discovery beyond the limits of the curriculum. 

On June 6, 2024, in a series of classrooms throughout the Upper School, members of the graduating class gathered in clusters to present their capstone reflections to an audience of faculty, staff, and members of the junior class. They explained the genesis of their projects, what they did during the month, what they learned about themselves throughout the experience, what their most significant challenges and surprises were during the capstone, and what the most enjoyable aspects of the projects were. 

In one particular classroom, for example, seniors related their capstones working with a chief litigator at Pfizer, an independent auditor at PricewaterhouseCoopers, an independent interior designer, and a particularly touching match-up between an Oak Knoll senior and current Lower School Math Teacher and Oak Knoll alumna, Elizabeth Mercogliano ’94.

Cat Jordan ’24 shadowed Mercogliano for the month, assisting in grade three and four math instruction, running homeroom gatherings, helping other teachers, monitoring students at recess and during lunch, assisting with field day activities, and generally getting a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what it’s like to be one of the teachers who taught her throughout the years. 

Her capstone was particularly moving because Jordan ends her time at Oak Knoll with a unique empathy and deeper understanding of what it is like to be metaphorically on the other side of the textbook.

“For me, the most enjoyable aspect of the project was forming relationships with so many of the kids,” explained Jordan. A highlight was a third-grade student named Sophia, who instantly wanted to bond. 

“She was so sweet the entire time and always asked when I would come in. She eventually made me a 3D-printed cat after my name,” explained Jordan. “It’s in my car right now. She was just so enthusiastic about me being there.”

Jordan reflected on the hugs she received every day from the girls but not from the boys, whom she speculated were either too shy or too cool for hugs. She also enjoyed answering the students’ questions and translating math concepts into terms the younger students would understand.

She related her immense satisfaction of experiencing those light bulb moments in students. “Just seeing them put the pieces together in real-time is so rewarding. When they get it, they’re just so proud of themselves, and you’re really proud of them too.”

She also experienced challenges such as maintaining her calm when students misbehaved, maintaining composure when students failed to grasp concepts, and especially maintaining patience after a student naughtily doused her with a water balloon on field day.

She also explained the joys she experienced, saying, “One of the most surprising aspects for me was how many connections I was able to form with the kids and how much I enjoyed working with them. I’ve never really thought of myself as a kid person. Wanting to come back every day and see them was really surprising for me.”

Jordan was most impressed with the amount of organization that goes into teaching, with the host of lesson plans, one-on-one parent meetings, specific accommodations teachers must make for certain students, and individual approaches a teacher must take to meet students with different learning styles and paces. 

Jordan shared that her original choice to shadow Mercogliano was simply based on a friendly relationship she had after being her student years earlier and being tutored by her in middle school. However, after spending the month with students, she could see herself pursuing the field and planning to take college education courses.

“It was gratifying to see the kids talking about their satisfaction in grasping concepts and their pride in learning,” she said. “Building those bonds and working with the kids was exciting, and I really enjoyed it.”

For her part, Mercogliano was effusive about the partnership. “Cat really got a firsthand look into what it means to be a teacher,” she explained. “She got to see how much more there is to being a teacher than just teaching the lessons. Cat was great at explaining mathematical concepts in a way the students understood. During class, they wanted to ask her questions and not me. They loved having her, and the students really connected with her.”

For more on the senior capstone project see the signature programs section of our website.