Inly 6th Grade Student Seeks Help Exploring How the Brain Reacts to Music

Olivia_DAllessandroEach year, Inly School 6th grade students are asked to take on a Capstone Project, a major research project that culminates their years in Upper Elementary and prepares them for the rigors of Middle School. Students choose a topic of interest, then undergo several months of research, interviews, and preparation before they present their findings in a final presentation to their classmates, teachers, and family.

At the beginning of the year, Inly’s 6th grade students work with their advisor to brainstorm ideas and select a project that can sustain and occupy their focus throughout the year. Each week, students meet for direct instruction on elements of research, communication, expository writing, and long-term planning skills.

This year, Olivia D’Allessandro of Hingham, MA has chosen to focus her Capstone Project on how the human brain reacts to music. “My teachers asked me to come up with an ‘Essential Question’ for my Capstone Project,” D’Allessandro said, “and my question explores how the human brain reacts to music.” When asked what inspired her choice of topic, Olivia explained that she has always had a passion for music. She was in a band at Inly School, plays the guitar, piano, and also sings. D’Allessandro is also fascinated with the human brain—how it functions and its many complex parts.

“Olivia’s excitement about her Capstone project has been shared with the rest of our family,” said Jon D’Allessandro, Olivia’s father. “It’s been a frequent discussion at dinner, breakfast, and on the way to school—basically it’s been her passion.” Olivia’s mother, Robbi D’Allessandro, is grateful that Inly School has assignments like the Capstone Project to engage her children. “It’s one thing to have a driven student like Olivia,” she observes, “it’s quite another to put her in a setting where she can channel her innate abilities in a topic of her choice. The Capstone Project is just one of many projects that Inly School has developed to nurture eager minds like Olivia’s.”

“I have three subtopics to my Capstone Project,” D’Allessandro explains. “The first is the psychology behind how our brains process music, the second is why we like music, and the third is how music can actually make us smarter.” To further the depth of her project, Olivia is hoping to conduct interviews (either in person or via Skype) with experts in all related fields. “I’d like to interview everyone from musicians to neuropsychologists—basically anyone who may have some insight into this topic.”

Inly’s Head of School, Donna Milani Luther, is a big supporter of the Capstone Project. “We want our students to be lifelong learners. This project not only allows our students to explore a particular topic but it also teaches our students how to learn and how to enjoy the process of learning. It’s really quite remarkable.” Tara Calianos, one of Inly’s Upper Elementary teachers, also feels that Capstone is an incredible opportunity for Inly students. “Throughout this whole process,” Tara said, “our students are going through critical self-reflection—asking themselves important questions about how they learn and where there are opportunities for growth. As a result, they leave 6th grade with a greater understanding of themselves.”

If you are a musician or a psychologist interested in being interviewed by Olivia, please email Upper Elementary teacher, Tara Calianos, at or call Inly School at  781-545-5544.

See the Inly Upper Elementary Curriculum page for more about academic curriculum and experiential learning in grades 4, 5 and 6.

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