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The Capstone Effect

The Capstone Effect

The 16 juniors walking into the classroom of teacher Austin Freeman ’02 for 8th period – the final period of a long school day – have a little more zip than most at this juncture of the afternoon.

Call it the AP Capstone effect.

The college-style, research-based, interactive, new Advanced Placement program at Jesuit is having an impact on the academic culture and creating a buzz. Offered by fewer than 2% of high schools in the U.S. and about 600 worldwide, AP Capstone fosters the skills colleges seek in prospective students, preparing them for the rigors of college and success in their careers because of its emphasis on research and collaboration.

AP Capstone quickly had an impact on Freeman. He was a little unsure what to expect when he took on the challenge of implementing the program at Jesuit. But within a few weeks of the start of the school year, Freeman, Jesuit’s English Department Head, was looking forward to AP Capstone each day as much as any class he has ever taught.

What makes AP Capstone compelling for these 16 juniors and their teacher? The two-year program consists of a two-course sequence: AP Seminar (juniors) and AP Research (seniors). The AP Seminar course they are taking now empowers students to explore academic and real-world issues from multiple perspectives. Through a variety of materials – from articles and research studies to foundational and philosophical texts – students are challenged to explore complex questions; understand and evaluate opposing viewpoints; interpret and synthesize information; and develop, communicate, and defend evidence-based arguments.


Junior Year - AP Seminar

  • Team Project and Presentation
  • Individual Research-Based Essay and Presentation
  • End of Course Exam

Senior Year - AP Research

  • Academic Paper
  • Presentation and Oral Defense

What does that all mean inside Freeman’s classroom? It feels like the academic version of an up-tempo football offense, with the pace and execution of a lively stage presentation. Via AirPlay and the Apple TV technology, the screen of each student’s Apple iPad Air can be immediately projected onto the big screen. From his iPad, Freeman can scribble notes on the research paper of Carlos Ruiz ’18, while Ruiz, Freeman, and the rest of the class engage in dissecting Ruiz’s work.

“I’m gaining the confidence needed to pursue difficult classes in college,” Ruiz said. “(AP Capstone) is providing us with the skills to do well in those difficult classes. We’re learning how to conduct our own independent analysis of complex ideas, how to create meaningful research questions, and even identify and form our own successful arguments.”

After a few minutes on the hot seat, Ruiz’s work is off the big screen and another’s pops up. Another round of markings by Freeman, with interaction, responses, and arguments from around the room, students firing off points and counterpoints.

Moments later, it’s a breaking news story on the big screen. Jack Mahoney ’18 is analyzing an online article about a recently announced blockbuster business merger. What does the story mean? What is the real world impact? What are the business and legal ramifications? How will it affect people in their lives? Issues such as fair business practices and monopolies are explored and discussed, applied or rejected.

AP Seminar instructors have some freedom in creating the structure of the course, and Freeman has designed the class so students can learn more about topics of their choosing, working their interests and own creative views into the lesson plan. As an English teacher, Freeman brings his passion for English into his approach to AP Capstone, engaging in themes such as language, love, intelligence, and identity. Students read scholarly articles, research and analyze different works, and give powerful presentations on their findings.

Individual and small-group presentations are significant part of the course. In one group presentation, the students take turns expressing specific interpretations of a poem, and how they compare or contrast to other pieces read in the class. Freeman gives rapid feedback to all the groups by addressing the strengths and weaknesses of their presentation.

The instant constructive criticism prepares the students for their AP Seminar assessment, which requires both an individual project and a team project completed during the year, and a year-end written exam.

“The most challenging aspect of the course is the independence,” Ruiz said. ”Our first presentation and essay were done completely by ourselves, once we were given our prompts. It is good practice to do them independently because we cannot receive any guidance from Mr. Freeman in the second semester when we work on our individual research-based essay and presentation.”

The ultimate goal for the 16 students is the AP Capstone Diploma, which actually requires much more than just the successful completion of the AP Seminar and AP Research courses. Students must also receive a score of 3 or better on the AP exam (AP exams are graded on a 1-5 scale) in at least four other AP courses during high school, meaning AP Capstone Diploma recipients will have demonstrated success at a high level across multiple disciplines.

AP Capstone is complementing the in-depth, subject-specific rigor of AP courses and exams at Jesuit, and it continues the school’s progressive development in Advanced Placement. Jesuit offers more AP courses, has more AP students, and is achieving a higher pass rate on AP exams than ever before.

From 2009 to 2016, Jesuit raised its AP course total from 9 to 20, with the addition in 2015-16 of AP classes in Latin, Psychology, Physics 2, and Calculus BC. In that same span, from 2009 to 2016, Jesuit increased its AP test pass rate (a score of 3 or better) from 56% to 84%, while increasing its students enrolled in AP from 125 to 346, and more than tripling the number of AP exams taken, from 223 to 693.

Such tremendous progress in AP, and across the board academically, has made AP Capstone under Freeman’s direction a natural fit at Jesuit. The 16 juniors embarking on the program this year are: Lazaro Alvelaez, Bryce Connolly, Austin Covelli, Joshua Cruz, Jack Cullaro, Christian Jung, Hyoung Kim, Jack Mahoney, Joe McGonnigal, George Morgan, Diego Perez-Aracena, Tommy Pham, George Robbins, Carlos Ruiz, Matthew Tamashiro, and Aaron Williams.

Click here for more information about AP Capstone.

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