Photo: The 2019 award recipients of the Blacker Prize: (from left) Alexander Park (third place), Abigail Mohr (first place), Cameron Anderson (second place).
It’s one of the anticipated events of the school year as the Belmont High School English Department hosted the annual Lillian F. Blacker Prizes for Excellence in Writing on Wednesday, May 15, in the Peter Holland Library.
This time, there was something extra on the afternoon’s agenda: change. Prior to the ceremony was a presentation of the department’s inaugural senior English Capstone projects which will likely be what most seniors in the future will choose as their year-long endeavor in critical thinking.
“It’s going to be a big and exciting change for this community,” said Lindsey Rinder, director of English, ELE, and Reading for the Belmont Public Schools.
In the past 25 years, the capstone project has become the serves as a culminating academic and intellectual experience for students has become the standard in both upper-level undergraduate and graduate courses.
Established last year at Belmont High, the pilot program re-envisions the senior thesis as project-based learning. At the beginning of the school year, 81 students – about 30 percent of all seniors – volunteered to take part and worked closely with English teachers Anne-Marie Fant and Kimberly Masterson.
As with the traditional thesis, the capstone students were required to follow a detailed roadmap that included writing an inquiry question on a topic of their choosing, exploring the question in a variety of sources and forms, and completed a portfolio of writing to demonstrate their final thinking on the topic, as well as their intellectual curiosity, said Rinder.
But unlike the thesis which is entirely written, the capstone students employed a wide range of creative outlets to demonstrate their knowledge. Podcasts, museum installations, video documentaries, poetry collections, artworks and fashion were on display as
Rinker believes “most students will be doing a capstone project instead of a senior thesis,” with the exception of AP English students who will continue producing the traditional written thesis.
A report on the capstone program will be presented to the Belmont School Committee on Tuesday, May 21 and the committee will likely vote on Tuesday, June 4 whether to implement the change in the 2019-2020 school year.
The highlight of the evening was the presentation to three seniors for outstanding writing ability on their senior theses. Each student reads, researches, and writes a lengthy paper investigating a literary topic. English faculty members determine the winners after an extensive reading process.
The 2019 prize recipients are Abigail Mohr (first place), Cameron Anderson (second place), and Alexander Park (third place).
Other notable Theses and Capstones can be viewed here.
Family and friends established the Blacker Prizes more than twenty years ago in memory of Blacker, a longtime Belmont resident who was a