It's been a couple of years since Upper Arlington High School added a senior capstone project as a graduation requirement, replacing the school's longstanding senior thesis, and it seems to be achieving its goals.

It's been a couple of years since Upper Arlington High School added a senior capstone project as a graduation requirement, replacing the school's longstanding senior thesis, and it seems to be achieving its goals.

The capstone provided a way to "increase some of the rigor in what the students were doing," said Cathy Johnson, a social studies teacher who coordinates the capstone program with language arts teacher Julie Otten.

Students are evaluated on a rubric that emphasizes 21st century skills, better preparing them for the workforce, Johnson said.

"All of the students have to first identify an essential question that guides their research and the entire project for the year," she said. Students are encouraged to seek out projects involving subjects "that they haven't studied in school or that they really love."

The essential question is one of tenets of the capstone project. Projects must also benefit the larger community; include both experiential and text-based research; incorporate collaboration; and demonstrate a multi-faceted approach and significant academic rigor.

Students work with mentors throughout the year, many of whom are from the Upper Arlington community, Johnson said.

"We encourage them to find a mentor that has expertise in the area that they are pursuing," she said. The school keeps track of mentors to foster future partnerships.

This year, the Ohio Nurses Association contacted the school, hoping to work with capstone students to establish a public relations campaign.

Students complete the project in their 12th grade language arts and government classes, and are given release time depending on their individual schedules. They may apply for grants through the school if their project requires funding, Johnson said.

"The greatest thing for me to see is the growth from the beginning of the year to the end," she said. "To be able to see them plan and implement a yearlong project . . . there is so much growth in the twists and turns that happen along the way."

Current projects include a student who is examining education reform and will attend an e-tech conference in the spring, and another who is pursuing patenting an invention. Johnson said she even had a student apologize for being a few minutes late to class, after having used release time to watch eye surgery.

"It runs the gamut from real science type kids to anything and everything the students want to pursue," Johnson said. "Some are more service oriented."

All capstone students will give a presentation on their projects, which must be supported with a technology component, on May 26.

Students in the International Baccalaureate program complete a capstone project as well, which includes three components: an extended essay; a theory of knowledge class; and creativity, action and service (CAS) activities.

The extended essay is a research paper of up to 4,000 words, which is "much like a university experience," said Cynthia Ballheim, AP/IB coordinator.

"Theory of Knowledge represents about 100 hours of classwork between the junior and senior year," she said. "It's a transdiscplinary course that ties the entire program together."

The class includes a monthly forum, open to the public.

"We bring in an expert or speaker to talk to us; someone we wouldn't ordinarily come across in the high school milieu," Ballheim said.

The CAS requirement is "meant to stretch students in the same way the academics stretch them," she said. "How can they be creative; find a need somewhere and fill it?"

Students receive a grade on their extended essay and theory of knowledge class through the IB program.

"There is no score for CAS," Ballheim said. "It's an altruistic part of life. It's something they don't get credit for or a grade on."

Students who have graduated from the IB program will come back to UAHS for a forum at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 6, to be held in the school's learning center. The graduates will discuss the transition from high school to university, particularly addressing what parts of the IB capstone best prepared them for college, Ballheim said.