Senior Capstone Projects Steer Safely Around COVID-19

Many members of Oak Knoll School’s Class of 2020 were getting ready to trade the classroom for the real world this month, but COVID-19 had other plans.

Each Spring, seniors at Oak Knoll wrap up their on-campus classes in April and by May – step out of the classroom before graduation to gain meaningful “capstones” to their education.

The goal of the Capstone Projects is to promote the growth of the whole child, while developing necessary skills for future successes – such as demonstrating initiative, managing time and making responsible choices.

Many businesses across the state, however, continue to maintain closures and social distancing practices, therefore altering the landscape of many of the senior projects.

Joan Paster, Dean of Students for grades 10-12 at Oak Knoll, said approximately half of the senior class was able to continue with their original Capstone projects, while the other half found new interests to pursue.

Before COVID-19, Ashley Byron ’20 was looking forward to working with the PGA at several of their golf tournaments throughout the state. However, since gatherings and tournaments are still cancelled, Byron decided to fulfill her Capstone Project by serving others.

Now, each day she makes and delivers in person several hundred sandwiches a week for St. Joseph’s Social Service Center in Elizabeth.

“It is shocking to read how many people in the country are currently unemployed and struggling to feed their families,” said Byron. “This has been a rewarding experience and I feel fortunate to be able to help people in New Jersey who are currently hungry. It may seem like a small token, but I am hopeful more people like myself will give back to those in need.”

Kailin Kramer ’20 and Anna Schwartz ’20, are also helping those out on the frontlines stay safe by sewing masks for health care workers.

Kelly Fitzpatrick ’20, who is interested in studying criminology in college, was scheduled to complete her Capstone Project by shadowing the security department at Brosnan Risk Security in New York. Since COVID-19, Fitzpatrick turned to another passion – nature – to complete her Capstone.

This month, Fitzpatrick and her family plan on taking a multi-day, 50-mile hike along the Appalachian Mountain Trail. Along the way, Fitzpatrick plans on collecting historical facts about the trail and its indigenous plants then turning the information into a flip book or presentation.

“One of my favorite activities is hiking and this is a great way to clear my head and escape our current fears surrounding COVID-19,” she said.

Other seniors have chosen Capstone Projects which will have lasting benefits for the Oak Knoll School community for years to come.

Julia Bartie ’20, will apply skills learned in her AP Statistics and AP Comparative Government and Humanities classes to explore the implications that COVID-19 has on different countries.

“I will be comparing the responses to containment and mitigation by Germany, China, South Korea, Brazil, and the United States, taking into account each country’s system of government, political culture, and social climate,” said Bartie.

“I am looking forward to following this ever-evolving saga and presenting my findings to the Oak Knoll community,” she said.

The current pandemic has also forced students to also get creative.

Megan Collins ’20 was planning to work on events with a public relations firm and Avery Donahue ’20 was hoping to work with a vascular surgeon at Overlook Medical Center. Now, both are completing their Capstones from home.

Together, Collins and Donahue are creating a digital quarantine-themed magazine, including a mix of interviews with essential workers, articles about how quarantine affects mental health and even a list of movies to watch.

“We were planning on targeting our magazine to high school students or people around our age but also think it can be enjoyed by all ages,” said Donahue.
“Hopefully, when finished, our magazine will be an inspiration during this troubling time for all high school students as well as for the Oak Knoll community,” she said.

Margaret Mary Tighe ’20 will be drawing familiar places and objects to portray this unusual COVID-19 world. One idea, still in its planning stages, is to demonstrate the once-bustling, now vacant playground down the street from her which is now covered with caution tape and branches on the slides.

Although many Capstone Projects have had to shift in some way due to COVID-19, all students have been encouraged to pursue projects that are meaningful to them.

“I have been extremely impressed with the flexibility of our seniors, given the challenges presented by Covid-19,” said Paster. “All of the seniors have taken the Capstone seriously and are doing the best they can with their respective projects. As always, I remain so proud of their leadership, their perseverance and their engagement.”