When books and movies bring the whole community together

It is a sacred occasion at LEAF Academy. A few times a year, in a place where both students and staffulty have consistently busy calendars, we pause for Seminal Readings. Regular classes and meetings stop, and the entire community comes together to tackle important issues through challenging literature and thought-provoking films.

Often, it’s not easy to hit ‘pause’ on the fast-paced momentum of school and focus deeply on a handful of texts.

For me, seminal readings are a reminder of a pause from the everyday race for success and a space for our advisory family to gather and grow together. Daniel

Yet, despite the challenges, everyone walks away feeling proud to have been part of something meaningful that draws the community closer together.

I feel seminal readings are a time for all students and teachers to stop for a while in our rushed environment, and for a few days just be. Be in the present moment and share our feelings, positive or negative, with people around us in our advisory family. Build trust, and destroy barriers which might occur during the year. And not only share, but listen. Listen to the stories of others connected with the topic discussed that can enrich us as human beings because at the end of the day that is what really matters. Simply who you are as a person and if you act accordingly and be honest with yourself. Even though it is long lasting process, essentially we do a big part of it, of discovering who we are at the seminal readings which is basically just a few days a year. It makes us more human and more connected. – Adelka

The purpose of Seminal Readings is more than just reading books or watching movies together. The intentionally chosen texts help us engage with complex issues, inspire us, or even provoke. These readings are used as a way to begin discussions about challenging issues that help us think and reflect on our values.

Value is Not Always Immediately Visible

The idea of “assigned” readings can often be met with apprehension, but students and staffulty are encouraged to approach each text with curiosity and perseverance. During the discussions, students are encouraged to push back on each other’s initial thoughts and ideas while using the texts as evidence to support their thinking. At the end, participants are often asked to reflect on how their thinking has changed: this is key to widening one´s perspective.

While listening to the perspectives of my peers and staffulty, I realized that personality and the actions of one of the characters were more complex than I had initially thought. Thanks to our discussion, I deepened my understanding of the character’s traits and intentions, which became a valuable takeaway from the seminal reading session. – Andrej

Our Seminal Reading Committee chooses a wide variety of literature that spans various genres, authors, and topics. Students read authors native to the Central European region (Pavol Országh Hviezdoslav or Milada Horáková) as well as global authors (Martain Luther King Jr. or Marjane Satrapi). They read both classics (Plato or Aristotle) as well as more recent publication (Jared Diamond or R.J. Palacio), and selections include graphic novels, poems, interview, or speeches. At some point, all students are bound to find something that they love.

My favourite book was The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. I really enjoyed reading it because the story was engaging and I finished it within 2 days. It portrays a young boy with Asperger’s Syndrome who goes through a very remarkable development throughout the story. He accomplished something no one thought he ever would. He was a role model to me after I read his story. – Virag

Students and staffulty read a particular text (or watch a film) and then come together for a two hour discussion that focuses on a particular theme that progress throughout the years from more individual, personal, egocentric focuses (Song of Myself) to expanding beyond the self and considering the impact of decisions on larger groups of people (1984).

These texts and themes allow everyone to make connections to their own lives and experiences, while also digging deeper into issues – realizing, many times, that the world is complex and multilayered. Within Advisory Families, discussions often bring an opportunity to open up on a more personal level and can lead to figuring out strategies for approaching, combating, and overcoming difficult or unfamiliar situations.

A Bit of Reading Inspiration for You

The collections of texts from our most recent sessions in April, might provide you with some inspiration for new reading!

In Year 1, participants were discussing overcoming prejudices after reading the book The Little Prince. They shocked themselves with their abilities to comprehend the dark and horrible scenes selected from the epic poem of Dante’s Inferno, and they challenge their ideas of traditional boarding school teaching methods with the movie Dead Poets Society.

Year 2 students were reflecting on common experiences left from previous regimes after reading the short story How We Survived Communism and Even Laughed. They considered the values and, sometimes shocking, consequences of traditions in another short story, The Lottery, or the movie Chocolat.

Our Year 3 students discussed how perspectives shift with particular knowledge as they tackled the Allegory of a Cave and excerpts from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. They also realized that things aren’t always what they initially appear to be as they watched The Matrix and read a satirical anthropological paper on Body Rituals of the Nacirema.

Finally, our oldest students in Year 4 came to discuss and reflect on power, people, and decisions: who deserves power and what qualities makes a good decision-maker? Students read about the rise and fall of a society in Collapse, watched the tearful reunion of now-grown children saved from the Holocaust in Winton´s Children, and wrapped up with the motivational words of Winston Churchill’s Blood, Sweat and Tears speech.

I started Seminal Readings with my Advisory group when the Academy first opened and we are now finishing Year 3. It’s always hard to put regular daily work aside, but I always leave the last discussion session wishing we had more time. Every time we sit together and discuss a text, I learn something new: sometimes about the literature but always about myself and my students. – Deedee, English teacher

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