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June 14, 2022

By Robin Becker, Assistant Director of Communications, Institutional Engagement

As 8th Graders prepare to graduate from Fieldston Middle and move on to Fieldston Upper, they are given the opportunity to draw upon the variety of skills and capabilities they have learned during their time as middle schoolers in culminating curricular experiences. 

In the past, 8th Graders worked with Outward Bound to travel to different neighborhoods around the city, often partnering with nonprofit organizations to give back to the community outside of the School. When that partnership ended, the 8th Grade team — which includes Stephanie Behrens, Annette Cantarella, Elizabeth Flores, Virginia Garcia-Lopez, Sharan Gill, Erik Hanson, Jesse Klausz, John Kurtz, Keira Lapsley, Elizabeth Smith, Joe Watson, Emily Wright, and Stephanie Wyman — looked for ways to provide students with similar opportunities to explore New York City and to have meaningful, enriching experiences together. 

The Fieldston Middle 8th Grade Team poses together outside
The Fieldston Middle 8th Grade Team

For the 8th Grade Capstone Project, “Capturing Our Historical Moment,” students worked in groups to produce documentary films highlighting how the COVID-19 pandemic affected a specific aspect of life in New York City, from the economy to education to mental health. 

Students were able to select their own groups, which 8th Grade Level Coordinator Stephanie Behrens says was a welcomed treat after two years of limited social engagement due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After the groups were formed, their first task was to draft a set of guidelines to help hold each other accountable, be respectful of each other’s work and time, and resolve conflicts and seek help whenever needed. By establishing these norms from the beginning, students were practicing trust, empathy, and effective communication, all critical skills that will help them thrive in Fieldston Upper and beyond.

“The groups of students worked very collaboratively,” says Behrens. “They worked together, exploring new places. They had a lot of fun!” 

Group of 8th Graders pose together in Dumbo, Brooklyn, in front of a bridge

Each student in the group played a different role in creating the documentary, such as researcher, interviewer, storybook artist, and sound editor. Students were given the option of choosing their own roles based on their interests and strengths. The Capstone Project gave 8th Graders the opportunity to take ownership over their own learning and to advocate for themselves and their abilities, while also exploring new skills.

“There were many moments of self reflection for the students, and there were also many moments of leaning into discomfort,” says Elizabeth Flores, Dean of the Class of 2026. “Students who were not initially comfortable leading interviews [for the film] found themselves in a safe space and decided to break out of their comfort zone.” 

Group smiles together outside of a building in Manhattan

The students spent several weeks working together in advisory to research and map out their films. Students then enjoyed a full day away from campus, immersed in a new neighborhood — such as Washington Heights, SoHo, Hell’s Kitchen, West Village, Chinatown, and Harlem — where they gathered footage, conducted interviews, explored, and had fun together as a group. 

“The students handled themselves so beautifully, not only as exemplary students of Fieldston, but also in putting into action everything they were researching for these films,” says Flores, who led a group of students around Washington Heights. “Most students were in neighborhoods that they weren’t very familiar with, and they showed such an appreciation for exploring these new places. It was an opportunity for them to look at a space with open and curious eyes.” 

Students film outside of building

Flores explains that one of her favorite aspects of the field trip was how conscious the students were of the impact of COVID-19 in a neighborhood like Washington Heights, which is predominantly Latinx and where many people are first-generation immigrants. “We got into deeper conversations about why COVID-19 had a greater impact on certain communities. I was so impressed with the way that students were thinking about it,” explains Flores.

Photo of outdoor wall art that reads, "Washington Heights"

There were also many moments of joy during the trip. “After eating Dominican-Caribbean food for lunch at Malecon Restaurant, students were feeling a bit full and a little sleepy,” explains Flores. The group walked over to J. Hood Wright Park to run around, play on the swings, and boost their energy before gathering more footage for their film. “They had the chance to be sweet little kids for a moment.” 

After collecting footage during the field trip, students compiled, edited, and polished their documentaries. At the end of the academic year, each group presented their films, and students had the opportunity to provide peer feedback on each other’s work. 

The 8th Grade Capstone Project is a chance for students to utilize the plethora of knowledge they gained during their time at Fieldston Middle, while also practicing new skills, exploring the world outside their classroom, and building community.

“I love that it’s something they end their Fieldston Middle career with,” says Behrens.