FBRA Seminars: Engaging Students & Empowering Minds

By Katherine Saul, Girls Program Academic Director

Imagine the scene: you’re walking your dog in Montford Park on a sunny November day, and you come across a group of 25 neon-clad adolescents, engaged in enthusiastic swordplay and rambunctious stage fighting led by professional actors and directors on the Montford Players’ stage. They cluster in groups to choreograph and practice scenes from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.  As you watch, the stage violence dissipates without incident, and groups huddle to discuss the connections between emotion and violence and to debate the roots of society’s preoccupation with violence that is at least centuries old.

Student-Centered, Experiential, & Cross-Disciplinary

You have stumbled on a FBRA seminar. Several times a year, we run these seminars, which are one-day deep explorations of a huge range of topics beyond the curriculum. Our students participate in all-school seminars with their Salamander brothers and sisters and at each campus separately. Their goal is to promote connection and curiosity: connection between students, across grade levels and campuses, and with the amazing community we live in; curiosity through asking and investigating questions about the world that might not show up on a test or in a lecture. Seminars at FBRA are student-centered, experiential, and cross-disciplinary. We don’t assign grades to seminar participation; instead, we offer students authentic and relevant learning experiences that inspire writing and research along with rigorous academic discussion. Through seminars, each Salamander grows in their empathy, perspective, and understanding of their unique place in this beautiful and complex world. 

Why, Fungi, Why? Seminar
The History of Hip Hop and Country Music Seminar

FBRA Seminar Themes Span the gamut

Previous whole-school seminars have been organized around exciting topics, including “Why, Fungi, Why?”, in which students learn about the myriad of mushrooms in our local forests and about the responsible gathering of samples from the wilderness before experimenting to create art with their collections. They may involve a field trip to the Black Mountain College Museum to learn about the famous experimental art school’s founding, which was a direct response to the fascist fervor in 1930’s Europe; or to the Bounty and Soul farm, learning about food systems in Western North Carolina. Salamanders on seminar days may also be learning about the parallel and divergent histories of country and hip hop, two distinctly American musical genres; or about the physics of Bernoulli’s Principle, which they apply to the building of their own model planes.

Black Mountain College Seminar
Bernoulli’s Principle Seminar

At the Boys Program, students in seminars have learned about the indigenous and geological history of Appalachia; shopped in Spanish at a local bodega for ingredients to cook Costa Rican specialities; and explored the history of slavery in WNC through a trip to the homeplace of Zebulon Vance, North Carolina’s governor during much of the Civil War. At the Girls Program, students have researched issues of water scarcity in our state and around the world, culminating in a water collection simulation at French Broad River Park; explored “Our Covid World” virtually through the lenses of history, science, law, art, and storytelling; and engaged in vigorous debates about issues impacting education in the United States today.  

FBRA Seminars Create Lifelong Learners

Our FBRA teachers appreciate the opportunity for students to be curious and explore concepts that are slightly outside the scope of most of our classes and enjoy sharing their varied interests and expertise with students. Students anticipate learning in co-ed groups or cross-grade groups, they realize the importance of going out of their comfort zones, and they like that seminars “just teach us how to do really cool things.” Seminars are a tool for FBRA to help our Salamanders practice core character traits of determination, courage, curiosity, and compassion while sparking a love of learning that transcends our classroom walls.