Capstone Experiences

Our senior capstones aren’t confined by the walls of the classroom: they’re dynamic, self-directed endeavors and the culminating academic experience of every Mercersburg student.

As part of Mercersburg’s graduation requirements, every student completes one of two senior capstones—MAPS or Springboard—built around their scholastic and personal interests. These capstones foster original thinking and allow students to proliferate their own ideas while producing compelling work in preparation for college.

What qualities make a good MAPS student?


A two-year program that begins in 11th grade with a competitive application process, Mercersburg’s Advanced Program for Global Studies (MAPS) gives highly motivated students exposure as young scholars. MAPS expands and transcends the existing curriculum, seeking to encourage and inspire students to redefine their potential. Students are empowered to become creative and discerning thinkers, independent and self-directed learners, and compassionate and engaged global citizens.

In 11th grade, MAPS students enroll in Thought, Knowledge, and Belief, a course that considers the role of morality, intuition, reason, philosophy, religion, and ethics in human affairs, as well as political theory and current events. In 12th grade, they enroll in the Senior Research Thesis and undertake a “SEARCH” project (Study-Engage-Apply-Research-Create-Help) with the help of one or more professional consultants outside the school community. SEARCH includes the completion and defense of a 30-page paper on a topic of the student’s choice, a 10- to 15-page “call to action” community engagement proposal, and a 45-minute presentation to a panel in a public forum. The SEARCH project involves considerable extensive first-person, online, and print source research.

Other MAPS requirements include advanced foreign language study (at least to level four), 15 credits of approved MAPS courses in at least four core disciplines, and community engagement projects in the Thought, Knowledge, and Belief class and in the SEARCH class.

MAPS Requirements

  • 11th grade course: Thought, Knowledge, and Belief 
  • 12th grade course: Senior Research Thesis
  • SEARCH capstone project
  • Advanced foreign language study
  • 15 credits of approved courses in at least 4 departments
  • Community engagement projects
  • MAPS travel and study trip

How MAPS Is Assessed

“P-I-E-C-E” is the core of our MAPS assessment philosophy and the focus of our skill-centered and challenge-based program: Process, Information, Engagement, Creativity, Effort.

A central part of the Thought, Knowledge, and Belief course and the SEARCH capstone project, PIECE includes frequent self-assessments and reflection, oral presentations, and analytical and critical feedback from teachers as well as fellow students. The Socratic method is also used as a form of cooperative argumentative dialogue between and among individuals, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas and underlying presumptions.

What Is Challenge-Based Learning?

Apple introduced Challenge-Based Learning as an education initiative that would mirror the modern workplace. Students learn to collaborate, ask questions, use technology, tackle real-world problems, and share their results. The process pushes students out of their comfort zones through a series of simple and complex tasks. Students must learn about an issue or topic, ask questions based on their understanding of the topic, and identify a challenge that they want to solve. Teachers are the guides throughout the process, but they must remain flexible, adaptable, and curious.


In a world that’s increasing in complexity and a culture that risks asking less of us for the sake of skimming and entertainment, Springboard engages seniors in an innovative, in-depth capstone experience.

Springboard teachers are passionate about their subject areas and eager to work with students on real-world challenges. Though each Springboard is different in terms of subject material (from commercial arts to storytelling through podcasting), the goals of each Springboard are the same: to delve deeply into a topic, ask questions and generate knowledge, and create a polished presentation that will be evaluated by a panel of experts.

Springboard engages students through field trips, talks with guest speakers, and a wide range of activities and skill development. Based on the principles of Challenge-Based Learning, the program encourages students to think critically and identify problems to solve, challenges to face, or projects to develop.

John David Bennett, Dean of Curricular Innovation and Director of Springboard

Springboard Program Components

  • Acquire a deep understanding of a real-world topic

  • Create an actionable project based on an identified challenge

  • Complete the project with the help of a mentor

  • Present the project to a panel of experts

Students In All Springboard Courses...

  • Ask Questions
  • Identify a Challenge
  • Solve the Challenge
  • Share the Results

Sample Courses

  • Applied Economics: Entrepreneurship
  • Commarts: The Art and Business of Graphic Design
  • The Fight Against Disease
  • Food for Thought
  • Maker’s Lab
  • Mercersburg History
  • Positive Psychology
  • Rapid Application Development
  • Write Your Novel