In 1997, Greensboro Montessori School held its very first graduation ceremony honoring three eighth grade students. In the fall of 2017, exactly twenty years after that defining moment in the school’s history, we welcomed our inaugural 9th grade class, interestingly enough, also composed of three remarkable students: Theo Fenske, Owen Jacobs and Alex Kotis. It has been affirming to watch these boys step up to be the leaders of the student body of our school. They have each taken on the position with confidence and grace.
To support these students in their new leadership position, this year they have been meeting and interviewing local leaders in the greater Greensboro community. So far the students met with Abu Zaeem, the principal of The Newcomers School and our very own leader, Kevin Navarro, whose dissertation was written about what it means to be a vulnerable leader. Next they meet with Kevin H. Gray, the president of the Weaver Foundation.
Another important element built into our 9th grade curriculum is the completion of a year-long capstone project that challenges each student to apply his or her skills to an area of personal interest that will improve and enhance their world. Similar to a thesis or senior project, the capstone project provides a framework for demonstrating leadership and advanced application of critical thinking skills. The project is comprised of three main components: documented service learning, a written research paper, and an oral presentation, in the style of a TED talk, to the greater school community.
To further extend their learning, the students were challenged to custom design an end-of-year 9th grade field trip that would incorporate research opportunities for each of their individual capstone projects. They have been collaborating with a faculty advisor to explore a range of possibilities, and have settled on an itinerary that involves traveling in an RV throughout the Pacific Northwest. Their route will take them to explore tidal pools, tour museums in Seattle, visit a military base in Tacoma and interview refugees in Vancouver.
The three projects are as diverse as the students who developed them and their chosen destinations also represent that diversity.
- Owen’s project involves the creation of a documentary about refugee resettlement with a dual focus on young refugees in Greensboro and also in Vancouver.
- Theo’s project involves constructing a saltwater tank which simulates the tidal pool environment of the Pacific Northwest.
- Alex’s project has motivated him to engineer a device that transmits a non-lethal irritant aerosol to be used for self-defense or to stop or combat violence. Visits to the Police Museum in Seattle and the Lewis McChord Military Base in Tacoma will inform this project.
In addition to making steady progress on their capstone projects, the students are taking a full academic course load which fulfills and surpasses the North Carolina state requirements for 9th grade. Their course load includes an honors level English class, an honors level biology class, an online Economics and Civics class, Math 1 or Math 2, and either Spanish 1 or Spanish 2.
So far this has been a productive, busy year for our three inaugural students. As they look ahead at matriculation into 10th grade in fall 2018, they will be well poised for any high school of their choosing whether public, private, charter or otherwise.
Their experience has paved the way for others to follow and their leadership in the realignment of the Upper School (4th-5th-6th and 7th-8th-9th) has reinforced the validity and tremendous benefits of the three-year developmental cycle.