Middle School Students Wow With Capstone Projects

From operas and folk songs to poetry and sculpture, middle school students’ year-end presentations were replete with creativity, insight and joy.

For eighth graders, their final project of their middle school careers hit a high note — literally. This year, students have been studying the history of American pop and rock. “We listen to, analyze, discuss and rewrite music from each decade, examining the social and cultural context in which the music was created,” explained music teacher John-Alec Raubeson 

Part of the curriculum required students to form their own bands and write original music, which was performed to a crowd of adoring fans (family, friends and faculty) on May 18. The event, billed as “a celebration of creativity, imagination, collaboration, and hard work,” saw eight student bands perform. Students also shared readings of original poetry, speeches and rap songs, and created an impressive display of CD album artwork.  

“The culture of this grade celebrates stepping outside comfort zones to explore beyond what they already know to try new endeavors,” Raubeson said. He emphasized the students’ “ability to persevere through mistakes and learn from them, reconcile differing perspectives, and put in the hard work necessary for a project of this magnitude. They have figured out how important it is to support each other through moments of vulnerability. This was all evident in the dimension and caliber of the performances.” 

Seventh graders took a more reflective tone for their final project. For their Journey Project, middle school humanities teachers Mary Chappell and Paul Friedman challenged their students to answer the question: What makes me who I am? Students reflected on their seventh grade experience by choosing five topics, issues, moments or events from the year that helped shape them into who they are now. They then created artistic renderings of their growth and change along with written statements and presented their work to classmates, teachers and families on May 25. 

“The artistry and creativity on display was so amazing and demonstrated the journey that our seventh graders went on over the course of the year,” Friedman said. He described the evening of presentations as an “uplifting, positive experience that embodies our teaching methods and philosophy here at Masters."

While the seventh graders’ embarked on an introspective journey, the sixth grade headed outside, spending the year heading up, down and at times into the Hudson River. The students’ yearlong study of the 315-mile-long body of water included seining at the Dobbs Ferry waterfront and visiting the United States Military Academy West Point. 

For their culminating project, Middle School Performing Arts Coordinator Katie Meadows tasked students with creating an imagined character who lives in the Hudson Valley. Students then wrote folk songs — either a working song, a game song, a lullaby or a ballad, that outlined the character’s story.

“The sixth graders have embraced this year of learning about life in, on and around the Hudson River with courage, vulnerability, resilience, creativity and meaningful connection” Meadows said. “Their folk songs, poetry and art work were evidence of that.”

The fifth grade took a trip to a whole different world during the debut of its puppet opera, “The Book of Thoth,” on June 2. The School’s youngest students spent the year studying ancient Egypt and opera; the puppet opera married these two seemingly disparate concepts, with students performing an original opera they wrote about the lives of Egyptian gods and goddesses with guidance from Middle School Performing Arts Coordinator Katie Meadows. The stars of the opera were hand-crafted puppets of the deities that students worked on with art teacher Bruce Robbins. 

Alison Andrus, leave replacement teacher for humanities teacher Michaela Boller, noted that students had to utilize what they had learned about the ancient civilization in their classes to write the opera and create the characters. “The students strove to have their deities’ actions and lines reflect their research,” she said. “For the plot, they used information about Egyptian daily life, food and drink, religion, pyramids, the River Nile, and the ‘Book of Thoth,’ a tome containing vast knowledge and thought to be written by the god of learning and writing himself, Thoth.”

Andrus highlighted students’ collaborative efforts in bringing the opera to fruition, including “creating roles for each character, compromising, and pushing their thinking to construct a fun and concise dramatic work in three acts. They should be so proud of their cooperative effort!”

Whether showcasing a journey inward, back in time to ancient Egypt, into the Hudson River or onto the stage, middle school students’ presentations all demonstrated a common theme: tremendous growth and learning throughout a fulfilling school year.