Yesterday was Leilani’s first day in an Italian school!
I wanted to put her in an Italian school because this is the most unique opportunity she’ll have in her childhood. She will learn their language, their culture, and develop friendships over the next 2.5 years. But most of all, she’ll be challenged. The curriculum at the base school wasn’t stimulating Leilani enough. She would complete homework assignments in 5 minutes and call it “baby homework”. An example would be ‘match the picture to the word’ or ‘write the missing word in the sentence: Bob ___ his food (eat, ate).’ Unbelievable, right? One thing I also noticed was her lack of enthusiasm after school. I’d ask her how her day was and her response would be a flat “fine”. I missed the little girl who couldn’t wait to talk my ear off about her day or bring home projects and art work like she did with her school back home. It was time to look into a school out in town. (Note: I’m not blasting the school because it’s not the teachers, it’s the curriculum they have to teach to our children.)
Another thing, Leilani had been at this school for 4 months when 3 of her friends moved away. New students are always coming in and other students are moving away – including the teachers. Tours end and new tours begin. This happens on a daily basis. None of us are stationed here permanently so the school is always changing. That can be confusing to a lot of children. Yes, that’s the military life. But if I can help it, I will – that meant moving to a school out in town. Off we went.
I had my heart set on an international school that is constantly advertised here – and where some military children go – but I wanted to look into others before we took the plunge. I am so glad I did! Last Friday, I found a wonderful school that Leilani and I were both very happy with. No English is spoken there so Leilani will be fully immersed! This is exactly what I wanted for her, to jump right in. We were given a “tour” that showed the room which looked unlike anything we have in the states. I quote ‘tour’ because it is very small and there isn’t much to see. The school is divided by 2 or 3 large buildings – which are all the foundation of apartments – one is for the pre-K and kindergarteners, the other is for the 1st thru 3rd graders, and the next building is for the 4th and 5th graders.
When we entered Leilani’s school building (primaria scuola) we were deafened by the loud voices echoing throughout the room; Italian’s are loud and Italian children are even LOUDER. The school room has 4 classrooms with thin walls that all face each other and are separated by a small hallway. The classrooms are probably the size of an average American master bedroom. They have a traditional setting equipped with a chalk board (s0 cool!) and dry erase board, vinyl flooring throughout, individual desks, a few windows, and a crucifix on the wall. Each class has 8-10 children as opposed to the 28-30 in an American class. So, the entire school between pre-K and 5th grade has less than 100 children. They wear red and navy blue uniforms that resemble a professional soccer team sweat suit (Leilani will wear a uniform in the new school year). They only write in cursive, they are in school 2 hours longer than the states, there is no recess or a park to play at, and they have a full hour of lunch which is freshly prepared Italian food that is served to them IN their classroom; no cafeteria (and no home lunches – score!). Quite an experience, right!? The children are free to be themselves. They don’t have to ask to use the bathroom or to get a book or pencil, they just do it. I was there for an hour and the kids never stopped talking. But you can see the team work of helping each other out. The teacher’s don’t go by first or last name’s but the word, maestra which means ‘teacher’. Leilani’s maestras name is Ana and the other teachers call her “mama Ana” because she is very motherly towards the children, calling them her “bambini’s” (babies) and always caressing their faces, pinching and kissing their cheeks, holding their chins up to her face, and giving them hugs. Leilani’s cheeks were pinched about a hundred times yesterday, haha!
The curriculum isn’t much different than it is in the states. Math, science, technology, geography, history, English, and religion. I believe religion is taught a couple of times a week. English is to our Spanish class; basic words and numbers. During the English period, Leilani got to recite and write numbers 1-20 and she said her whole class erupted in applause. They thought that was the coolest thing when she said it so fast! Each teacher specializes in a subject and when the next period begins, they walk into the other classrooms and teach that subject for the hour. I think the children have a better understanding of each subject because there is less than 10 children in her class, which means a lot of one on one time.
I made a note card with Italian phrases to help Leilani throughout the day. If she didn’t understand something or needed help, she could refer to the little note card that said “I’m sorry”, “I don’t understand”, “I’m learning”, “please”, “teacher”, “excuse me?”, and “can you help me?” all in Italian and with the correct pronunciation. She said she only used non capisco – “I don’t understand” – which is great! When I picked her up from school yesterday, she had the biggest grin on her face. She said she ‘had the-most-absolutely-positively-wonderful day’! She made a new friend who surprised her with a purple rabbit’s foot key chain on her back pack. Her lunch was “delicioooous!!!”, she had fried fish and green salad with a light dressing. She showed me a few pages of her cursive writing – they had her copy a paragraph written in Italian – I’m surprised it turned out decent! It’s something we’ll definitely be working on. The kids write on graphing paper and math on bar graph paper. So, I bought school ruled work books for nothing, ha! When we got in the car she said, “I can’t wait to go to sleep tonight because before I know it, it will be morning and I’ll get to go to this school again!” Now, if that lands her in bed early every night, I did something right!
My greatest fear in her education is of her regressing; especially when we are always moving. I am thrilled to have found this school and given this opportunity for our child. This is definitely going down as one of the proudest moments we have as parents. Her bravery, her enthusiasm and knowledge of being placed in a school that solely speaks their native language, and desire to start a new day makes me a very deliriously happy mother.
I will post a video of Leilani speaking Italian as soon as she catches on. By June she will be 100% fluent! Maybe then I’ll hire her as my teacher and pay her in gelato cones!