EPIC pushes students to create life-changing projects
Flannery Poon, Staff Writer|May 15, 2023
Students in EPIC create businesses to explore their passions. Seniors Talia Thompson and Cece Wager made an acai business to serve their community.
Throughout the years, students have built homemade skis, established rugby programs for middle schoolers and learned how to pickpocket, all thanks to the guidance of one class.
Experiential Project Based Capstone (EPIC) is a senior English class that allows students to design their own projects to complete a personal goal. The class is currently taught by English teacher Ben Berman. The projects can be whatever the student wants, as long as it can be completed during an allocated ten weeks during the spring semester.
Throughout the year, EPIC students focus on different topics such as decision making skills, what brings them happiness and more. Questions like “Who am I now?” and “Who do I want to be?” help students decide on what they want to pursue. After researching, students come up with a capstone project proposal which they pitch to Berman. They then spend the second semester working towards that goal.
Because it’s an English class, the students generate many written reflections, detailing their progress and goals. Berman said that EPIC pushes students to learn because they want to achieve meaningful work and not because they just want to get a good grade.
“A lot of school is really teacher-directed, in terms of we determine what you need to learn, why it’s important and how we are going to measure your success. Students don’t have tons of autonomy to figure out what they’re interested in and to let that drive what they study,” Berman said.
Senior Cece Wager decided to take EPIC because it was unlike the other normal classes at the high school. She felt that it was more open and it helped students build their skills as a person. The specific skill that Wager was working on was her communication.
“COVID hit right during my freshman year, which was really hard. Everything was online and nobody talked to each other face-to-face. I struggled with talking to people in-person, and I got a lot of anxiety. So I really want to work on that before college because there’s a lot of stuff that you need to do in person,” Wager said.
To achieve her goal, Wager partnered up with senior Talia Thompson, her close friend and soccer teammate. The two had traveled to California for soccer and found their inspiration. Together they decided to make an acai business, influenced by the many acai places there, for their capstone project. Wager said she is happy with their project.
“I love being able to share something that I love with the community, with BHS, with the students, with the faculty, with the kids that are running around in the park and coming up to us and asking us questions. It’s so sweet,” Wager said.
Wager said that while starting the business has been super fun, it was also challenging. They had to find and source the ingredients, calculate the price per bowl and then actually make and sell them. Wager said that they reached out to people in and around the high school for advice. Through instagram direct messaging, phone calls, or simply showing up, Wager and Thompson talked to other acai businesses, teachers and even gas station managers.
Wager and Thompson weren’t the only students to create a product to sell this year. Senior Joel Gutierrez attempted to create a container to store and lock up one’s water bottle while they go on a run. The idea stemmed from a conversation with his father.
“One day my dad came home and he was frustrated because he had to carry his water bottle with him and he didn’t really like those water bottle straps that you can use to carry it in your hand, so I thought that I would approach it from a different angle,” Gutierrez said.
While working through his project, Gutierrez realized that actually designing individual products and trying to produce them wasn’t what he wanted to do. If he wanted to start a company he would want to create it around a bigger idea, not just one product, as a broader vision provided him with more motivation. While Gutierrez didn’t finish his initial idea, he did achieve something else: an epiphany.
“I wanted to figure out how I can make my life more exciting. I had this conversation with my mom about the fear of missing out, and I came to the conclusion that I need to step up and do things if I want to get rid of that fear,” Gutierrez said.
Gutierrez realized that to make your life exciting you need to take risks and participate in unique experiences. He took a risk and while things didn’t work out exactly how he hoped, he was still content with what he had achieved.
Not all EPIC students were focusing on making things more exciting; one was actually looking to make her life less exciting.
Senior Nemiera Lal’s capstone project was centered around mental health. She wanted to focus on her peace of mind in the midst of her senior year and the stress of college. EPIC allowed her to design a project that prioritized reflection on her emotions and furthered her communication skills.
“Through EPIC I decided to try out different small things: napping was the biggest one, and journaling every week. One of the biggest things I did was say no to friends, which is something new for me because every time someone asked me to hang out I would just immediately say ‘yes,’” Lal said. “Through EPIC, I started consciously making the decisions for myself and never letting other people decide where I am and where I go. It’s me who decides what I do.”
Initially, Lal had a slightly different idea. She was planning on spending more time with others as a way to deal with her friends leaving after graduation. But as Lal spent more time with others, the more she realized that it was something that she did all the time, even before EPIC. When she took time for herself, it felt as though she was wasting time.
“One of my activities was just laying down and listening to music and that was such a hard feeling for me. Even though it was relaxing, I just wanted to get up again and again. I was fighting the urge to do something,” Lal said.
But Lal persevered and said that now, she feels a deeper connection with her family and is able to have more focused conversations with her friends, all because of EPIC.
Berman said that is one of the best and the most challenging thing about EPIC. It’s more difficult to complete a task when it is so ambiguous, but the result is more rewarding.
“You get to work with students as people. Instead of me telling them what they need to learn, I’m constantly learning about their interests and encouraging them to take personal risks and helping them understand through the act of reflection and what it means to live a meaningful life,” Berman said.