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Senior Capstone Project Grows from the Bedrock of a Providence Education

May 20, 2021 by Admin

by Chris Elwood, Upper School Humanities Teacher & Senior Thesis Project Director

Recess and RhetoricWhen people ask me why I am sending my two teenage daughters to Providence, I don’t answer “because I teach there.” I tell them about the excellent teachers and classes, about the individual care students receive, and I describe the beautifully balanced infusion of the Christian worldview within the curriculum.  

I share with them about the humanities program that merges the disciplines of history, English, and philosophy in a unique way that allows students to play ping pong inside their minds and hearts as they delve deeper into the interrelationship between educational disciplines. 

I further assure them of Providence’s proven ability to prepare students for college as thinkers, writers, and communicators. 

To hammer in my rhetoric, I use the capstone Senior Thesis Project as the final example of the Providence success story, for it encapsulates many of the traits and habits we desire a Providence graduate to obtain: critical thinking, curiosity, eloquence, collaboration, and more.

College-level research in a high school setting

This capstone project has drawn attention to the point that Westmont College decided to make it a dual-enrollment class, providing two transferable college credits to all who complete it.  Every year, Westmont librarians who assist Providence seniors in their research comment to me on how better prepared Providence seniors are than most of the incoming freshmen they see, particularly in the areas of critical thinking, research, writing, and presenting on challenging topics.

Creating and defending an engaging argument, informed by a Christian worldview

What exactly is the Senior Thesis Project? The yearlong project begins with a question that a student is seeking to answer, such as “Is drone warfare ethical?”, “In what ways can we reform the foster care system?”, or “Should capital punishment be abolished?” Students spend most of a semester doing research, engaging in several disciplinary angles on their topics such as science, ethics, politics, and Christian worldview, to then form an engaging thesis to answer their question. They meet with a faculty advisor once a week, connect with an expert in the community, write a minimum of a ten-page research paper, and prepare a multimedia oral presentation they then defend in front of a faculty and staff panel. We select the top three projects to present to the larger Providence community.  This community gathering event displays the depth and power of a Providence education.

Owning one’s education

One of my favorite aspects of this capstone course is the autonomy it provides the student. Seniors get to choose their topics and many of them select either something they are passionate about or a question they have been examining for years.  Mark Twain asserts, with tongue in cheek, “I never let my schooling interfere with my education.”  Twain expounds on the truth that there is an aspect in most formal education that squashes students’ innate curiosity to learn by forcing agendas upon them, rather than allowing them to pursue a subject they are interested in to the outer reaches of the universe.  

The senior project gives students the valuable gifts of choice and time, and the faculty come alongside them in collaboration to challenge and assist their pursuits. Albert Einstein comments, “I never teach my pupils; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.” I believe we provide optimal conditions for the students to flourish: college library access, faculty mentorship, empowerment, and encouragement. 

Finishing well

It is a most rewarding process to see these seniors struggle and claw themselves through difficult topics and land on a high bedrock of knowledge and wisdom gained through the process. When they stand up front, confident and articulate, presenting an artistically designed and intellectually compelling argument, I beam with Patriot pride, fully knowing the Providence difference in preparing students for college and the world beyond!

I am really looking forward to seeing my daughters, Avala Grace and Aza Joy, give their Senior Thesis Project presentations in the future—an opportunity to enjoy both Patriot and parent pride.

Congratulations to all members of the Class of 2021 on completing this capstone course. A special congratulation goes to our three finalists:

  • Olivia Bates – “The Importance of Monetary Discipline in Preserving the Dollar’s Reserve Currency Status”
  • Zak Lopez – “Physical and Psychological Effects of Youth Sports”
  • Nolan Lundgaard – “Fossil Fuels, Solar Panels, and the Future”

To view their recorded presentations and question and answer sessions, see the link below.

Chris Elwood earned B.A. degrees in both English and philosophy from Westmont College, a teaching credential in English and social sciences from Chapman University, and an M.A. in curriculum and instruction with a biblical studies emphasis from Colorado Christian University. Prior to joining the former Providence Hall faculty in 2009, he was the men’s tennis coach at Westmont and an instructor in the kinesiology department. He coaches the Providence varsity girls tennis and girls beach volleyball teams.


For more information on the distinctly Christian education at Providence School, contact Tawny Kilpper, admissions director, at tkilpper@providencesb.org