During a busy final few weeks in Term 3 at Marist School, students find themselves immersed in a flurry of exams and Advanced Placement tests. Yet, beyond filling in endless multiple-choice bubbles, it is often the remarkable class projects that embody the essence of the students’ learning in each subject.
Out-of-the-box assignments, initiatives, and presentations let Marist students showcase their knowledge and understanding through captivating displays of creativity, passion, and finesse. From presenting on improvements in campus culture to a “Pride and Prejudice” tea party, their projects live on as tangible testaments to their growth and demonstrate the profound impact of their education at Marist School.
Student projects in Marist English teacher Ms. Ashley DeGracia’s classes are prime examples of how creative teaching can engage students year after year. In her 10th year at Marist, Ms. Ashley DeGracia teaches Advanced Placement (AP) English Language, Creative Writing, and British Literature. She is also the former co-director and head coach of the cheerleading program, moderator of the high school literary arts magazine, “Rapier”, and the Foundations literary arts magazine, “The Window”. Ms. DeGracia is used to finding new and creative ways to enhance her students’ learning.
In her classes, Ms. DeGracia incorporates projects that allow students to tap into their passions and see the results of their efforts in real time. “When students are given opportunities to have creative autonomy over assignments, they become more engaged in the work,” Ms. DeGracia explained. “A hands-on, student-centered approach to teaching and learning can be more thought-provoking and challenging than traditional essays or exams because students become active members in their education. They move beyond receivers-of-knowledge into investigators. I want my students to become curious thinkers, so it’s important for me to create lessons and assignments that encourage students to discover and explore.”
Ms. DeGracia’s AP English Language class project directs students to research and propose ideas to advance the culture, policies, and experiences at Marist. “Last year, I had a group of three extraordinary young women in my AP English Language class interview current students and alumni about their experiences at Marist, most of whom identified as LGBTQIA+. These young ladies interviewed Marist School Principal Mr. Mullally and invited him and Marist School President Fr. Rowland to have a conversation with them about what they learned,” Ms. DeGracia said. “I always let students know they are free to invite friends to their final presentations. For this presentation, I was honored to witness Connolly Lecture Hall fill up with students, teachers, students from other classes, and administrators. The space was completely full. Though all seats had been taken, people took it upon themselves to stand and line the walls, eagerly engaged in the presentation.” Ms. DeGracia noted the impact of this kind of engaging project will be felt for years to come. “After the young women graduated, they let me know they plan on continuing this type of research and were grateful a seed had been planted from this project.”
Brooke Guillaume ’24 agreed that her time in Ms. DeGracia’s British Literature class had a profound impact on her academic journey, saying, “Her classroom experience is extremely immersive, which has brought me the most positive learning environment I have yet to encounter. Instead of sitting at my computer and studying for tests, Ms. DeGracia has given me the opportunity to be socially engaged with my peers, while showing my upmost understanding of our lessons. This new integration of learning has strengthened my confidence for future immersive activities in other classes. I have been able to branch out and be more expressive in English subjects due to this healthy and encouraging environment.”
Colin Braley ’24 concurred. He shared that, “Instead of reading at home, we read our books aloud, in small groups, and with a British accent. In Term 1, we would act out Shakespeare's ‘Hamlet’ in every class period. Some of my favorite memories were when we would dress up as ‘Hamlet’ characters and bring the story to life in class. It was a blast!”
In Creative Writing, students are encouraged to curate a creative writing portfolio in place of a final exam. The portfolio includes poems, short stories, and prose presented as artifacts that represent the themes of the students’ work. Mia Abujawdeh ’25 reflected that the “portfolio project allowed us to share our works creatively, different from any test we could have done for a final. We could make mirrors, flowers, letters, anything our imagination allowed us to, and Ms. DeGracia would love it, no matter what we made.”
Through innovative and immersive projects such as these, Marist students prove their knowledge and understanding of the subject matter under the guidance of excellent educators like Ms. DeGracia. These projects leave a lasting impression on both students and the school community. By emphasizing the importance of creativity, expression, and real-world connections, the Marist School educational experience is not solely defined by exams and tests, but rather by the preparation of students for futures filled with innovation, collaboration, critical thinking, and personal growth.