Using the Senior Capstone to Equip GCA Seniors
Angie Nordhorn, GCA Upper School Assistant Principal

Lead. Build. Equip. We toss about these verbs quite frequently at Grace Christian Academy; anyone in our community has listened to us explain how these values define our mission. Chapels, coaches, and community are used to Lead students to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Classrooms, courts, and clubs help Build students to their full potential in Him. But the question begs - how does GCA Equip students to serve Him?

One way of equipping our students resides in the Senior Capstone project. Over ten years ago, Dr. Pointer and I began a collaborative project between the Senior Bible and Senior English courses. To combat an ever-deepening secular worldview, we task seniors with researching a controversial issue that potentially divides society and/or the church. Subjects such as abortion, capital punishment, stem cell research, prosperity gospel, and predestination are on the topic list. Divisive inside and outside mainstream churches, these issues will confront graduates. Infusing reliable research with biblical truth creates a foundation which allows students to defend their faith.

How, specifically, is the capstone formatted? Broken into several components, guided research begins in the fall semester. Students dive into each side of the controversial issue. Although students are often uncomfortable writing about the side not aligning with their beliefs, this step is necessary when trying to understand and refute secular arguments. Invariably, students want to argue against an organization’s position instead of just relaying information. “Listening” to an opposing side is powerful, however. Not only does it demonstrate thorough research, but it also allows the student to understand the other side’s rhetoric. For example, when researching stem-cell therapy, students quickly realize the vast differences in harvesting embryonic and adult stem cells. Without understanding what elements fall under the umbrella of “stem cell therapy,” students might assume ALL stem cell therapy is morally acceptable.

After researching and relating both sides of the issue, students are required to articulate their opinion. Although this sounds easy, it requires credible documentation. Expressions of “In my opinion,” “I think,” or “I believe” aren’t acceptable unless followed by authoritative sources. When asked to defend why they believe what they believe, students must be equipped with solid resources from both secular and Christian sources. It’s not enough to quote family members or teachers because the world wants experts, research, and data.

The final (and most nerve-wracking) piece of the capstone is the oral defense. Once the 8-page paper is completed, students are allotted 20 minutes to defend their position in front of a 3-person panel. If you ever want to see large linebackers sweat with fear, don’t attend a competitive football game. Instead, hang out in the upper school lobby during oral defense weeks! The strongest and most confident students might turn ghostly pale while waiting their turn to defend their position. However, this component scores a homerun because it demonstrates our unique ability to align K-12 education. Because GCA faculty from all divisions, GBC pastors, and GCA alum participate in evaluating the defenses, we truly involve our entire community in this final piece of the senior capstone. And, we’ve never lost a student to the oral defense – thus far, everyone has survived!

In summary, I believe the Senior Capstone reflects a commitment to Equip our students for life after GCA. Students are given real social issues that can’t be ignored. They will eventually, if not already, encounter classmates and colleagues who do not use Scripture as a moral compass. In a recent Professional Learning Community, Dr. Pointer facilitated an all-staff discussion on Ephesians 4:11-14:

11So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.  14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.”

Our hope is that Grace Christian Academy students will journey from “infant” believers to “mature” followers of Christ who will use their life calling for God’s glory. Although every division has distinctives of how they Lead, Build, and Equip students, the Senior Capstone reflects the combined efforts of all faculty and staff (K-12) who have invested in a student’s education.