Bosque's Capstone Program: "It's Where My Heart Is"

For nearly as long as Bosque School has had seniors, there has been a Senior Thesis/Colloquium program, also known as a capstone program. Capstone programs, generally speaking, aren’t uncommon, but Bosque’s approach could be considered unusual. While many schools make capstone projects optional, or reserve them for the top students in their classes, Bosque has gone a different route—inviting every student to participate. And, while many programs across the country last only a semester, Bosque has taken its commitment to the program up a notch in its year-long duration.

At Bosque, Senior Thesis and Colloquium is the culmination of a seven-year journey. From sixth grade on, each student has been developing skills and passions that will be tested and displayed in senior year. Seniors undertake a year-long independent research project and deliver their findings in a twenty-page research essay, as well as in the public presentation at Colloquium. Over the course of the year, students will submit a formal prospectus, conduct text-based research and fieldwork, and test their arguments at a formal defense.  

“The level of work that we expect is truly college preparatory,” said Upper School English Teacher and Upper School Dean of Academics, Dr. Nina Leacock. Dr. Leacock also supports the program as one of its three Primary Readers. “In fact, many of our students won’t do another project like this again until they are college seniors or perhaps in a master’s program. It’s a big project. The school has made a large commitment to it.”

In Bosque’s case, this unusual approach has paid dividends. The school’s program is nationally recognized in that other schools have used parts of the program as models. “Boston Latin,” said Dr. Leacock. “It’s the oldest public school in the country...When they launched their program, they started with elements developed from our handbook...We’re also on the National Capstone Consortium website. We’re the first spotlighted school.”

The National Capstone Consortium is an "open-source collaborative of educators, represented by a diverse range of schools--public and independent, large and small, day and boarding--from across the country." “What we’re doing is getting educators together to engage with each other,” said Dr. Leacock, who is also a member of the Consortium leadership team.

For Dr. Leacock, it’s been a perfect confluence of circumstances. “I came to Bosque and got involved with Senior Thesis and loved it,” she said. “I heard there was a summer teacher conference devoted to capstone projects, and arranged to go.”

That summit was the first of four grant-funded summits at the Thacher School in Ojai, CA, all of which she attended. But then, the grant money ran out. Dr. Leacock and a colleague approached the Thacher School and offered to run the summit if the school would support it, and it agreed.

In year one, Dr. Leacock and her colleague ran the summit. In year two, they added a couple additional members to the leadership team and then decided it was time for the summit to go fully independent, which it did last year. “I can’t believe that this is a fully independent national organization,” she said.

Dr. Leacock said the Capstone Consortium utilizes a peer-to-peer model and is careful not to be considered as “experts.”

“We have an incubation program where we pair mentor schools with newbie schools,” she said. “We call them hens and eggs...If you’re a new school, we’ll pair you with a school that will support your program development; during the summit, your team will meet with that team so you leave with a product.”

Last year’s attendance at the summit doubled from the previous year to about 70 attendees. The national summit has also started to produce regional spinoff summits, which are one-day events. Registration for the 2019 Summit opened last week; it will be held in June in Boston, MA.

While Dr. Leacock is excited at the growth of the Capstone Consortium and its work, she’s especially proud of the symbiotic relationship that occurs between the Consortium and Bosque School. “Bosque’s membership in the Consortium as a founding us a chance to share what Bosque is doing, so it makes the school more visible; in turn it gives us direct access to the very best practices nationally,” she said. “We know about them that year.”

Dr. Leacock said the fieldwork component to Bosque’s Senior Thesis/Colloquium program owes much to the organization. “Our students were ready, due to their experiences in inquiry projects, through BEMP, and in lab-based science classes, but I needed support. I would have had the conceptual knowledge to institute it without these folks, but I would not have had the courage.” She said there were people she called upon when Bosque’s panel process failed in its first year. “When you’re doing something this cutting edge, it’s bumpy, and this is an organization that shares the passion that Bosque’s program has...It’s super exciting to be involved at the heart of what is happening in education.”

And Dr. Leacock, herself, shares in that passion. In fact, she oozes it. When she talks about the program and her work, she exudes an infectious enthusiasm. “It’s where my heart is,” she said. But she’s quick to recognize the genesis of it all and give credit where it’s due.

“Bosque sent me to that first summit; that’s how I started on this journey,” she said. “This school unleashes people’s best selves.”
“And Dr. Leacock’s best self is truly extraordinary,” said Pat Preib, Interim Head of School. “She embodies the happy combination of academic depth and rigor with a kind heart and a quick laugh. Her impact on our students’ research experience has been profound. She helps them discover not only their passions, but also their abilities. I have rarely seen her competence and work ethic matched. Her students are fortunate to work with her, of course, and her colleagues are as well. She’s a gem.”
Dr. Leacock serves Bosque as the upper school’s Dean of Academics, as well as supporting students in Bosque’s capstone program, Senior Thesis and Colloquium. Nationally, she serves on leadership at the National Capstone Consortium, where Bosque is a founding member school. Dr. Leacock earned her bachelor’s degree at the University of Michigan and her PhD at the University of California, Irvine. She has taught English and Comparative Literature, among other subjects, to high school, college, and graduate students in California, Georgia, and New Mexico.