By Seth Daniel
When Camila Cordoba would walk to work in Boston’s Seaport District, the Revere High School (RHS) senior couldn’t help but be struck by the numbers of homeless that she encountered on her way to work.
While many people walked past them oblivious, Cordoba said her heart went out to them.
She began to wonder what had happened, what their stories leading up to homelessness, might entail.
That curiosity led to a great, heartfelt effort that also translated into a major graduation project for Cordoba and a team of students. That project is a somewhat new alternate requirement called the Capstone Senior Project.
“At the time, I was working at South Boston and I would walk from State Street to South Boston,” she said. “Every day I walked there, I would see the same homeless people there on the street. As it got colder and winter approached, I was feeling bad about them and thinking about how my friends and I had talked about doing random acts of kindness. Then, it just clicked. Soon after, it grew and really became bigger.”
In November of that year, Cordoba and some friends went down to the area with sandwiches and drinks and distributed them to the homeless. As they did so, they began to talk to the men and women to learn their stories.
“After we got there, I said, ‘Wow, wouldn’t this be a great documentary,’ because I’m a photographer too,” Cordoba said. “When we heard the stories, we wanted to be able to tell them and to show other people the stories of the people we encountered who were homeless…Soon, we decided it could be our Capstone senior project. I really hope the documentary opens eyes for people.”
What they ended up producing was a high-quality documentary about homelessness in Boston, telling personal stories of the homeless men and women (with their permission).
Senior Sofia Gil said that they spoke with a young man named Bob who had been sexually assaulted as a teen at home and had run away from home. After battling many problems on the streets, he was able to straighten out and get into a stable relationship. That resulted in a daughter. However, after the relationship went sour, he found himself back on the streets.
“He told us he was a kid just like us saying he would never be like who he is,” said Gil. “He said it’s easier to become like him that we might think. I think I learned that there isn’t too much separating us from him like we might think. It could easily be me there one day. He told us, ‘Every step you take today sets the stage for tomorrow.’ That really stuck with me.”
The Capstone Senior Project is a newer innovation at RHS and is only an option. While students are all required to turn in a portfolio their senior year that shows and demonstrates what they learned during the four years at RHS. However, some students can choose to pursue a special project called the Capstone. While it likely takes more time, work and energy to produce, students can use the skills they’ve learned in high school to pursue a passion they might have.
Assistant Principal Jonathan Mitchell said there are 10 Capstone Projects this year, including Cordoba’s.
Some of the others include a public mural, a dermatology study, a JROTC personal improvement study and one about “crowd sourcing” – or tracking student behavior on a database.
“These are things the students have learned that they’re applying to the real work,” said Mitchell. “We have some very interesting projects this year. The crowd sourcing project is very interesting.”
All of the projects will be presented publicly on June 8 at 11:30 a.m. in the Learning Commons. That public presentation is part of the process.
Supt. Dianne Kelly said the Capstone projects are part of making high school skills applicable to real-world problems.
“We’re going to start a new system in conjunction with the state that will give a better sense of student achievement and look at things in a student’s career through a broader lens – like the Capstone project. This allows kids to show their understanding through non-traditional ways. Sometimes a standardized test for kids doesn’t reveal what they really know. This will help to show where kids are doing well and where they need supports. These types of Capstone projects also help them to get ready for real life.”
Senior Christian Amaya said the project has changed him in a way that schoolwork never would have.
“This whole experience will not be forgotten,” he said. “We worked hard on this. As teen-agers, we learned a lot…Overall, I think we made a good statement. We showed people we’re from Revere, Massachusetts and we have a viewpoint. We gave facts and our opinions and we tried to make a difference. I think we did make a difference.”
In the end, Cordoba said the project wasn’t a choice, but rather something they were compelled to do from inside.
“No one has ever done this big of a Capstone Project,” she said. “The thing is, we didn’t do this to graduate. We did this because we felt we should.”
Revere High Senior Camila Cordoba (fifth from right) with the rest of her team on the Capstone Project regarding homelessness. Those on the project (not in order) include Milena Restrepo, Valentina Arrango, Sofia Gil, Christian Amaya, Cassandra MacDonald, Devin Garcia, Yasmin Valle and Jasmin Alves. Capstone Projects are a new alternative for seniors as a graduation project.