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The power of 'action research': Detroit Lakes High School seniors' Capstone projects have positive impacts

Capstone projects, which are a new requirement of graduation this year but are not graded, challenge students to make a difference in their community by identifying a problem, conducting research to determine a possible solution, and then taking some sort of action on that.

Detroit Lakes High School seniors Savanah Burrow and Martha Nustad completed their Capstone project on the positive effects of compliments.
Detroit Lakes High School seniors Savanah Burrow and Martha Nustad completed their Capstone project on the positive effects of compliments.
Barbie Porter / Detroit Lakes Tribune
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DETROIT LAKES — More than 250 graduating seniors from Detroit Lakes High School participated in an inaugural Capstone Night on Monday, May 9.

The Capstone projects are a new requirement of graduation, and are part of a semester-long (18 week) class, called 21st Century Skills, that goes hand-in-hand with the school's Academy-style learning model.

Tim Siewert, a 21st Century Skills instructor, said the class helps prepare students for life as a young adult.

“Whatever comes next — college, career, military — there are readiness skills we want them to have,” Siewert said. Those skills include things like fiscal responsibility, the ability to be a team player, and knowing how to prepare for the next step in life.

The Capstone projects challenged students to make an impact in the community by identifying a problem, conducting research to determine a possible solution, and then taking some sort of action on that to make a positive difference.

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More than 250 seniors at Detroit Lakes High School gave presentations about their Capstone projects during an inaugural Capstone Night at the school on Monday, May 9.
Barbie Porter / Detroit Lakes Tribune

“The project is not graded, but engaged students in action research,” said Mike Labine, another Capstone class instructor.

Seniors Savannah Burrow and Martha Nustad provided Capstone Night attendees with a great example of action research: Their project focused on determining the impact of compliments.

Burrow acknowledged that high school can be a place where negativity spreads quickly, and working up the self-confidence to break from the norm can be a tall task. Many times, she said, she's had a compliment on the tip of her tongue, but has held back.

“I’m not sure why I did, other than I was being self-conscious,” she said. “Now, I realize everyone is excited to get a compliment. There is no reason not to (give one).”

The two seniors set up a decorated box inside Laker Shop, the store inside the high school, and informed the student body that anyone could drop a compliment in the box for a fellow student. The compliments were later hand-delivered by either Burrow or Nustad.

“We had over 50 compliments,” Nustad said. “When we delivered the note, the results were immediate. There were a lot of smiles and inside jokes that made people laugh.”

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Alliyah Redick, left, and Zoey Morey did their Capstone project on the beneficial impacts of youth mentorship.
Barbie Porter / Detroit Lakes Tribune

Zoey Morey and Alliyah Redick also experienced the power of action research, witnessing for themselves the benefits of youth mentorship.

Redick said they approached the principal at Roosevelt Elementary School and requested to work with students in first grade. After discussing with a teacher which students might benefit the most from spending time with a high school mentor, the two were assigned two students.

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The impact of the mentorships was quickly noticeable, they said. The first graders began taking more interest in their studies, and even sent get well cards and letters when Morey was sick.

Other seniors' Capstone projects took on mental health awareness, bathroom remodeling, homeless youth awareness, food insecurity and more.

Both Labine and Siewert noted how impressed they were with the students' final projects.

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