Nipissing students teach English in Italy

Con ed student pay their own way to teach in Italy for the 10th year.

By Christina Manocchio and Stephanie Taylor

On Feb. 10, 42 concurrent education students from Nipissing University held a fundraiser to help buy school supplies for their trip to Italy to complete their practicum this spring.

On May 1, the students and three faculty members will travel to Sulmona to teach English for three weeks.

The students will cover their own expenses, about $5,000 each. The fundraiser, held at Rocklings Bar and Grill, was for school supplies as some of the classrooms may not have excess amounts of what the students will use.

It was only one way students are collecting money for their supplies.

“Before we go to Italy, we are going to have a bottle drive,” said Alexis Pownall, a third-year concurrent education student. “All of the bottles that we used at Rocklings will be given to us to go towards the bottle drive.”

This is the 10th trip Nipissing has organized. For the first three years, professor Maria Cantallini-Williams did most of the planning

“In 2005, I started to research the idea, with the approval our dean of education at the time,” said Cantallini-Williams. “We developed an agreement with the University of L’Aquila.”

It took two years for the first trip to come to fruition, with students from Nipissing going for the first time in 2007.

“We went there [to L’Aquila] in 2007 and 2008 and each time we had 29 or 30 students. So, we had good numbers then,” said Cantallini-Williams.

In 2009, there was an earthquake in L’Aquila four days before the students were supposed to arrive. It killed 300 people. The schools were demolished and the university had to be rebuilt. The students only went to northern Italy that year as L’Aquila was too devastated.

In 2010, Nipissing began working with the Hamilton Dante Centre for Italian Language and Culture on other options.

“We couldn’t go back to L’Aquila,” said Cantallini-Williams. “They had connections in Sulmona, so we started going there in 2010.”

Cantallini-Williams has joined the students every year said students find it life-changing. Along with a colleague who is no longer at Nipissing, she came up with the term for the benefits that the students get out of the experience.

“We found that there were REAL benefits,” she said. “The ‘R’ is for the students found they became resilient and resourceful. The ‘E’ was they figured out employment opportunities. The ‘A’ was they became more aware’ of different cultures and different school systems. Finally, the ‘L’ was they came upon language awareness.”

When asked why they chose to go on the trip, both Katie Calverley, a third-year concurrent education student, and Pownall said it was a no-brainer.

“The opportunity is kind of hard to pass up,” said Pownall. “It’s nice to get the language aspect of trying to teach them English, because they barely speak it there.”

Cantallini-Williams said most high school students and English teachers speak English “fairly well, while the majority of younger students and residents speak very little English.”

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Calverley. “Especially when you graduate, you’re under so much pressure to get a job so fast. It’s so different to go over and experience something and take it over here and try to implement it into your Canadian teaching styles.”

The students who are going on the trip required a good GPA and successful previous practicum placement evaluations in order to be selected.

“We were asked [after we got accepted] what committees we wanted to be in,” said Pownall. “There’s fundraising, communication, community building, t-shirts, teacher gifts, teaching supplies and Italian language.”

The students have the choice of five different age groups to teach while in Italy. The age groups are: infanzia (junior and senior kindergarten), primaria (Grade 1-5), media (Grade 6-8), superior (Grade 9-13) and adults. Not all of the students will be at the same school, as the schools are separated by age. There is one school for kindergarten through Grade 5, another for Grade 6-8, one for high school grades and an adult English school. The students will be split into pairs based on which age group they select. They will get an average for 25 teaching hours per week with additional planning time.

In addition to teaching, the Nipissing students will go on weekend trips.

“We have [a trip to] Venice,” said Caverley. “Then we’re in Rome. There are also side trips to Florence and Pompeii, which are an additional, cost but I’m sure everyone said they would go.”

The students, along with Cantallini-Williams and two other faculty members, will leave from Toronto’s Pearson Airport on May 1 and return May 22.