We were the guinea pigs: the ones who enrolled in a class that had never been taught before at our high school. When I was first introduced to the AP Capstone program, I had a vague idea of what it would entail: Two years of classes that would allow me to explore my interests through an intensive research project. Still, it was daunting arriving in September and realizing that I would be wading into uncharted waters.
The class itself is designed to be an introduction to college-level research. The College Board describes it as a “skills-focused” class that differs from other AP course offerings:
Through a series of graded presentations, both group and individual, students are expected to develop in areas like “critical thinking, research, collaboration, time management and presentation skills.” Because of the alternative nature of the class, schools must apply to offer the curriculum to students.
After our school underwent the application process, we became the first batch of students to take the AP Seminar class — the first year of the AP Capstone program — at our school. The first few weeks of class were quiet because we were still getting to know each other. The AP Capstone program is unique in that the teacher takes on the role of a proctor rather than a mentor. Our teacher was allowed to explain and break down the guidelines of the AP grading scale by which students would be scored. But she couldn’t give us any feedback directly related to our projects — our work was entirely our own. We had to be resourceful: our toolkit included research databases, the vast expanses of the internet and each other. With the enormity of the task looming ahead, it quickly became clear that we were going to make mistakes as first-time researchers, but we could either make them alone or make them together and learn from one another in the process. Thankfully, we chose the latter.
At face value, we’re a group of people you wouldn’t necessarily put together. I’m a veteran of most of the humanities courses offered at my school, whereas some of my classmates were future scientists or mathematicians. But we did have something in common — we loved asking questions. I’ve always been the most opinionated member of my family, and my tendency to start dinner-table arguments has long exasperated my parents and brother. But in this class, I found my community, people who could take any topic — climate change, technology addiction, the validity of personality types — and debate it.
But these arguments weren’t just the usual rantings of passionate high schoolers. They were thoughtful and documented. I spent countless hours deciphering academic language and knee-deep in a research database. When I looked up, I was reassured by the fact that whoever was across from me was in the same boat. We turned to each other for directional help, peer editing and brainstorming. It was, for the most part, a self-sustaining class.
Classes like the AP Capstone program aren’t ideal for everyone. Admittedly, the class required an immense amount of focus and a natural interest in reading and writing. But the abstract structure of the class — nothing like I’d ever taken before — taught me a lot about work and presentation habits.
By the end of the class, I’d done a report and group presentation on deforestation in the Amazon rainforest and wrote a 2000-word paper on video game restriction laws in the United States. But I’d gained more than just knowledge on two or three oddly-specific topics. I’d found a group of people that supported me in the curiosity I’d always had about the world.
To many, an “education of the future” is one that is increasingly virtualized, aided by technology that makes learning possible anywhere. But even in an increasingly globalized world — where the internet can connect a classroom from the United States to a classroom in Spain — soft skills, like written and verbal communication, public speaking and being able to weave a compelling narrative are just as important. Classes like the AP Capstone program offer students the opportunity to build a foundation of skills that will be applicable in any setting.