Junior Workshop

Each spring, Calhoun's eleventh graders embark on a nine-week independent, interdisciplinary project with a goal quite different than that of research papers, book reports or essays. The assignment is to "create knowledge, insight, beauty or function."

Below are just a few recent projects by our students; see a list of recent projects and read more About Junior Workshop.


Ade McKay: Film, "Criminal Injustice"

The Project: Documentary film, Criminal Injustice, examines racism and mental illness in the criminal justice system, and discusses the necessity of reform to bring about equal justice under the law for people of all colors and states of mind.

Inspiration: “This project arose out of work I did with Lavern [McDonald, US Associate Director] starting last fall, when I took her Politics, Punishment and Culture class. Then I did an independent study with her, and read Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, about how mass incarceration is today’s system of racial control. For this project, I worked with US English teacher Lyda Ely, who is also a documentary filmmaker.”

What I Learned: “I learned about how much is happening to remedy the injustices that I knew existed, but I also learned that these injustices are even worse than I had expected. The problems are systemic, and the human suffering is enormous; but more and more people seem determined to bring about change. I also learned how to conduct interviews, and felt myself becoming better at it each time.”

What’s Next: “I’d like to keep working on editing the film until it’s ready for release!”

Value of JW: “I feel incredibly lucky to be at a school like Calhoun where it’s possible to do this kind of work and pursue a specific passion that might not fit into a typical high school curriculum.”


Jake Bart: Clutch Rating for Major League Baseball Pitchers

The Project: Created a clutch rating for Major League baseball pitchers.

Process: Studied books on baseball statistics, explored online baseball sites (including Nick Silver’s fivethirtyeight), then created his rating system based on a two-part statistical analysis: the first part has to do with performance in 24 difficult situations—e.g.: how many players on base. The second part is about the context of the game: run differentials, the inning. He looked at three pitchers from the 1999 season—Randy Johnson (Diamondbacks), Curt Schilling (Red Sox) and LaTroy Hawkins (Twins). “My approach is different from other rating systems out there in that I used congregate numbers and weight situations.”

What I Learned: “I was hoping to find something that contradicted popular belief about each of the pitchers. I was a little disappointed that my results were consistent with common belief. But everything is meaningful, even if it’s just reconfirming what is already thought to be true. It can’t project outcomes; it's about past performance. Where it holds the most value is in conversations among fans; it is a new, fascinating angle.”

Value of JW: “Nothing else has given us the kind of time and flexibility that allows students to follow their passion in a more formal environment. I’m definitely more confident now in my ability and knowledge of statistics. And what’s really great about Junior Workshop is that it allows students to gain knowledge and talents in areas that wouldn’t be traditionally taught.”

Other Thoughts? “The Cubs will win the World Series.”


Oliver Otcasek: App Developing

The Project: Mobile app of Calhoun’s website for students and teachers

Process: "Everyone has smartphones. There are more smartphones than there are computers out in the world--by a few billion units, actually--and everyone carries them around. So,I thought to myself, what would I want, how could I improve the situation here, and how could I get into this exciting new world of app development? I took an intro class in Java last year with Jonathan [Haff, IT DIrector], so I used Java as the basis for my app, which makes it compatible with androids. Then I did a lot research for the app on my own--referencing online blogs and discussions by coding experts, and working with a mentor (outside Calhoun)."

What I Learned: "I got the input of non-tech people, which was really helpful. But of course, a lot of people don’t know what you can and what you can’t do; or more specifically, what I can and what I can’t do [with this mobile app], so it was interesting. Some of the easy things impress people and some of the really hard things they just shrug off. The hardest thing was.getting the data off of the website and putting it into the app."

Value of JW: "I want to be a developer one day—so it was important to get an early start in this new and exciting world. I'm glad I had this chance."

What's Next: "I hope to keep working on the app this summer."

How Coding Relates to Music: "In a way, there is a connection between my music and my interest in coding; for both, you’re solving problems. A lot of people like to say that music isn’t that mathematical because it comes from the soul. But I think coding can also come from the soul; it’s creative…you’re creating something new and you have complete control over it. So really, it’s not all that different from writing a song, or from painting."


Lindsey Randle: Portable 3-D Printer

The Project: Design and build a portable 3-D printer

Goal: While 3-D printing is a cutting-edge technology, one capabiilty the printers currently lack is portability. Lindsey is trying to change that; her aim is to create a printer that can be easily transported without compromising the apparatus’ build volume. “My hope is that a portable printer could be used almost anywhere. Someone could even hike out to a rural area and print something like custom prosthetics for people in need.”

Process: Lindsey, who expects to pursue a career in mechanical engineering, put together her first 3-D printer from a pre-built kit when she was 13. As part of an independent study early in her junior year, she constructed her first 3-D printer from scratch, based on her own design. That experience helped her figure out that she was interested not only in using the 3-D machine but in improving it. “I started thinking, ‘What if I could fold it and get rid of the space that is the build area?’ That would allow it to be easily transportable while maintaining a large build area when printing.” Over the course of Junior Workshop, she designed and built a portable 3-D printer with an easy-to-collapse mechanism.

The Value of JW: Junior Workshop provided Lindsey the freedom to undertake her ambitious project. "the positive feedback I received has given me the encouragement to continue working to improve and perfect the design.

What's Next: When the design is perfected, "I'd like to make it publicly accessible through open-sourcing—sharing it with as many people as possible.”


Rachel Mellicker: Film, "Undressed" About the Fast Fashion Industry

The Project: Rachel’s documentary film, Undressed, focuses on the impact of the “fast fashion” industry (retail stores that sell cheap clothing) on human rights and the environment. In addition to her film, she also had an article published in Huffpost Teen, “The Feminism of Fashion,” on April 18, 2016.

Area of Inquiry: “I started wondering how the stores I loved so much could sell clothing at insanely cheap prices. I’d never thought about where and how the clothing was made until I read a book by Tansy Hoskins (Stitched Up: The Anti-Capitalist Book of Fashion) a year ago.”

Process: In addition to reading Tansy Hoskins’s book and skyping the author for
an interview (she lives in London), Rachel read Elizabeth Cline’s book, Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, and then spoke to the author in person during a protest in front of a downtown H&M store! She also interviewed classmates as well as industry experts and activists. Finally, Rachel looked at “fashion haulers” on YouTube to research the promotion of conspicuous consumption. While she had some experience using iMovie to make quick videos, this was Rachel’s first attempt at video journalism and editing a long narrative film.

What I Learned: “Fast fashion means ‘disposability’ of clothing and humans,” says Rachel, who notes that slave labor has been shipped overseas, where children and women are working in unsafe conditions. Plus, there's the environmental impact: “The average American throws away 68 pounds of clothing each year; 80 percent of the clothing donated to thrift stores ends up in the landfill.”

What’s Next: Rachel stopped shopping at fast fashion stores a year ago. Now, she’s finishing up her film, and hopes to continue the conversation next year in the Upper School.

Value of JW: “Junior Workshop was an amazing experience for me because it gave me a chance to really explore a topic I am passionate about. My challenge was to try to shed light on a topic that I don’t feel is discussed, and to create a piece of work that would start conversations. I have now created something that I am really proud of.”


Xio Kelly: Curriculum, Workshop and Blog for Young Black Women

The Project: A workshop, titled Sisters of the Yams Interscholastic Forum, designed and facilitated for young black women from grades 9-12 to analyze the Black Lives Matter movement from the lens of being black in predominantly white institutions. Xio also created a website to augment the workshop. www.xiokellyjuniorworkshop.wordpress.com

Driving Questions: “During the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, I asked myself: What is the black private school girl’s experience and position in these movement; how does that positioning change our perception of ourselves and our relationship to the black community? These questions led me to want to explore the issues with other women and find a way to have our voices heard. Through testimony and reconciling, I began to feel an even deeper sense of self-affirmation.”

What’s next: “I intend to continue updating my website with more footage and audio, and I hope to launch an interscholastic group for black women next year, which will meet monthly.”

Value of JW: “Junior workshop gave me the opportunity to design and execute a project in which I explored intersectionality of oppression, individuality, and the positioning of my prep school identity and black identity. Being able to design my own curriculum enabled me to explore my interest in social justice and self-actualization—making it one of the most memorable times of junior year. I’m so proud of my final project.”


Walker White: Art Exhibit, "Reflection"

The Project: Reflection, an art exhibit of photographs and video collage, mounted
for the Calhoun community.

Artist’s Statement: “The photography seeks to find the extraordinary within the ordinary. The entangled images reveal what is in front of us that we don’t see—an exterior duality, a juxtaposition, while also commenting on consumerism. The conceptual piece in the show examines the rituals of everyday life. By listing basic actions in a repetitive manner, I hope to spark self-awareness and an impulse toward a more conscious way of living. In my video collage, I explore two concepts: the exterior personal—the blank slate onto which we ascribe meaning; and the inner psyche—the essence of the true self where we scratch the skin to find the scarlet underneath. This exhibit shows us something about ourselves—only, of course, if the viewer of the art is willing to reflect on it.”

Process: “When I was deciding on a theme for my JW project, I looked back and realized I had all of these reflection pictures. There are so many levels to reflection; there’s the more philosophical reflection on the self, but then there’s also these physical reflections. And I thought that would just be a good theme for some deep thinking.”

What I Learned: “It was not a cut-and-dry process. I had a lot of different work and a lot of ideas, and I think the hardest thing was .. .well, there were two main challenges. One was completely practical—organizing everything, finding where all the pieces were going to lay out; that took months. But then the other thing was narrowing my focus to have a really cohesive show. There were a lot of missteps, but it worked out in the end.”

Value of JW: “I was really happy to have the opportunity to do an art show at school.”


Gabi Lopez-Ruiz: Research/Blog on Slut Shaming

The Project: Researched and created blog on slut shaming: http://itstimetotalkaboutslut.tumblr.com

Area of Inquiry: A study of the impact of the word slut on high school girls, to give teenagers a voice. Until now, Gabi discovered through her research, the conversation has generally revolved around, and among, college-aged students.

Process: Gabi first researched the history of the term "slut" as well as current online dialogs about what people are saying and who's involved in the conversation. She then emailed the directors of 15 different New York high schools, public and private, asking them to circulate a 16-question survey to their students. She was turned down by 10 schools—most public schools (evidently, public schools are evidently not allowed to distribute surveys)—but five schools participated, including Calhoun, and friends at two public schools distributed the surveys to their own friends.One hundred and ten students took the survey: 100 girls (62.5%), 53 males (33.1%), 3 non-binary (1.9%), 2 gender fluid (1.6%), and 2 who were unsure of their gender (1.6%). Ages varied from 14-19, but 55 were 16 year olds. Gabi used tumblr to create her blog, and experimented with Piktochart software to create effective infographics.

What I Learned: “I learned the way words can shift so fast because of context, and how one word can affect so many young teens, in so many negative ways. The process itself took a lot of research and time--to think about what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it. I found it hard to find the write language to write about this… It was also a very emotional process; I could relate to a lot of the comments, but I didn’t want to make it [about] my opinion or biased in any way, so it took a lot of patience, and I’m an impatient person! So I learned a lot of patience! The most surprising aspect of the project—people were really honest and open.

What's Next: "I want to write at least two more blogs based on responses to the survey, and I am considering facilitating workshops in the Upper School next year to keep the conversation going."

Value of JW: Junior workshop gave me the space and opportunity to focus on something that's bothered me for a long time.


Tyler Battino: Cougar Sports Network podcast

The Project: Launched Calhoun’s first Cougar Sports Network podcast (CSN), with a series of five episodes featuring interviews with coaches and athletes.

Process: Before creating the podcasts, he interviewed several senior executives at SiriusXM, CBS Radio and iHeartRadio about broadcast journalism. He also met with the school’s communications director to find out how the podcast could be shared with the community through website and social media outlets.

What I Learned: “I learned how important it is to reach out to people early in the process; those connections lead to other connections ... yielding a network of possibilities. I worked on my journalism and interviewing skills, found out how to record and edit podcasts, and learned about “hosting skills”: for example, you have at most two minutes to reel the listener in; you need to make sure your interest in the topic comes through in the podcast.”

Value of JW: “The junior workshop experience gave me a chance to pursue something I was passionate about, a sports podcast. Creating the podcast helped to clarify my interests in sports business. At the same time, the podcast has given me a way to give back to Calhoun; it raises awareness for Calhoun athletics—
especially for teams that don’t otherwise get the credit they deserve.”

What’s Next: “I expect to keep CSN going next year, but Cougar Sports Network has been designed to continue beyond my years at Calhoun!”


Olivia Abrams: Researching and Deconstructing the Next Generation of Feminism


The Project: Exploring the connection between social media and the contemporary feminist movement.

The Process: Olivia’s interest in feminism, sparked through personal reading, soon became the focus of her Junior Workshop research. While working on this project, she connected with Seneca Women, a global leadership forum focused on the advancement of women and girls. Soon she was interning--assisting with their newsletter, events and social media. Olivia was invited to stay on as an intern, into the summer. She’s excited knowing she is helping lead the next generation of feminists.

Value of JW: “Through my Junior Workshop, I discovered how difficult it can be to bring together a large group of people to fight for the feminist movement.” Inspired by what she was learning about women’s issues around the world, Olivia continued working with the Seneca Women group into the fall of her senior year. She founded a Fast Forward Girls Club at Calhoun, and kickstarted a dozen more at schools around New York City. The clubs—all offshoots of Seneca Women—bring young women together to discuss feminism and raise money for nonprofits dealing with women’s empowerment.

What’s Next: In the fall of 2016, Olivia organized an event called Fast Forward Girls Town Hall, a conversation and Q&A focused on young women, power and purpose. Held at Calhoun, the event was attended by a mixture of Fast Forward club members from Calhoun and other schools, and featured the two inspiring founders of Seneca Women: Kim Azzarelli, chair of Cornell Law School’s Avon Global Center for Women and Justice; and Melanne Verveer, director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, and ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues under President Obama. “I plan to help start a Fast Forward Club at whatever college I attend, and one day I want to work as an entrepreneur in the nonprofit world on an international scale.”


Zak Wegweiser: Software Program for Scheduling Classes


The Project: Developing a software program that improves the class scheduling process at Calhoun.

Goal: Before Zak embarked on this project, scheduling classes at Calhoun was an archaic pen-and-paper affair. Zak hoped his new software would streamline the whole process, and eliminate what once took at least a week of work on the part of a schoolteacher or administrator.

The Process: Zak has had a longtime interest in programming and coding, but programming on this scale was new to him. The program he was trying to create first had to recognize each Upper School student’s graduation requirements, his or her class history and any prerequisites required for enrollment. Then, using a simple online menu, the student would request the desired classes. On the other end, the administrator working on scheduling the classes would receive a sorted list of students' requests instead of having to manually go through more than 200 paper forms. Zak started the process during his Junior Workshop, and continued fine-tuning the program into his senior year. The program is launching in winter 2017.

What I Learned: Through research, Zak explored how progressive schools take a different approach to scheduling classes. "I definitely have a better understanding of how our schedule is part of our educational experience," he says.

Value of JW: “When I look back on the experience, I’m really proud that I built this from the ground up. It was really uplifting just to know that I created something new that will hopefully help Calhoun even when I’m gone.”

Documentary film (above), by two Upper School students, looks at Junior Workshop--its value to their own educational experience and that of their fellow students.