Grade Six Moves On with Confidence Following Leadership Capstone Projects

Grade six students have been participating in a year-long Leadership Institute that culminates this month as they complete a final Capstone Project. The Capstone Project is an opportunity for students to highlight and present a leadership trait they admire and a well-known leader they feel embodies that trait. They will put into presentation form much of what they have absorbed after a year of exploring their own leadership potential and aspirations. 

Whether they are grade six boys moving on to new opportunities, or girls moving into grade seven in Oak Knoll’s all-girls program, in part thanks to the Leadership Institute, students report they are rising into middle school with less anxiety, more confidence, and tangible leadership skills — destined to bolster them academically, socially, and emotionally in the years ahead.

“Throughout the year we discussed key traits of leaders and the skills one needs to develop to improve leadership potential, serve as an active listener, and communicate effectively,” explained Leslie Smith, Grade 5 and 6 Social Studies and Religion Teacher, and one of three mentors in the leadership program. “For their end-of-the-year capstone, students were asked to pick a trait out of all those we’ve discussed this year — a trait they would most want to emulate as a leader — identify a leader they think most exemplifies that trait, and then use some of the presentations tools they have mastered over the years to design a visual tribute to that leader.”

Students in Smith’s leadership cohort, along with those in grade six cohorts mentored by Language Arts/Reading/Religion Teacher Oyi Daniels and Art Teacher Tim Brown will present their projects to faculty, staff, and parents on May 31, 2023.

Kenzie Lee ’29 was particularly impressed with her classmates during a leadership workshop mid-year exercise when students divided into tribes and worked on a fictitious tropical island to solve problems and collaborate as teams. She observed that her classmates were most successful when they listened to each other and demonstrated respect. “It’s important that we respect each other and ourselves,” said Lee. “I was thinking back to a class when we recently read a book about Rosa Parks and talked about how Martin Luther King and she were intertwined by respect.” For her Capstone Project as a result, Lee chose to focus on that respectful relationship and what respect means to her as a leadership trait.

William Hennig ’29 chose to focus on preparedness for his capstone research and found examples of that trait in Napoleon. “I believe a really important trait for a leader is to be ready for anything to happen — whether that’s just a project with your friends or something more serious. Napoleon was always ready and strategic.” Hennig is using a graphic arts program to storyboard his presentation using comic cells to bring this leader to life.

Compassion was a key leadership trait that came to mind for Caitlyn O’Keefe ’29. She felt Nelson Mandela typified this emotion. “He definitely demonstrated a lot of compassion because when he got out of jail, he didn’t even get angry at anyone. He just wanted to befriend people and make peace. A lot of people would just have been angry and resentful” 

The Leadership Institute for grade six students is drawing to a close, but the traits they have discussed and internalized and the self-reflection and collaboration they have enjoyed as a class throughout the year should do them in good stead as the rise to seventh grade. 

Christopher Dietrich ’29 reported, “I’ve been the student body president this year and I think the leadership workshops have really helped me step up in that role and increase my confidence in being the president. I’ll build on my confidence next year in seventh grade.”

Cristina Castelblanco ’29 agreed. “I think I will enter Middle School at Oak Knoll with more confidence because Leadership Institute helped with team building skills and with thinking for myself which can be really useful for the Middle and Upper School,” she stated.

“In general, the leadership workshops have boosted my confidence and I feel a lot better going into seventh grade next year,” added Carolina Iommazzo ’29.

Cristina, Carolina and their female classmates rising to grade seven will build on this leadership foundation and continue to grow in confidence through participation in Oak Knoll’s signature EmpowHER Program. Through a series of hands-on, interactive activities during the first few days of grade seven and eight, as well as programs woven throughout the curriculum, EmpowHER challenges all participants to build resilience and trust, grow as individuals, and bond as a class. 

Congratulations to the Class of ’29 as they take what they have learned, discussed, and emulated throughout the year in the Leadership Institute and apply it in the years ahead.