My Children, My Heart

The last day that I attended my beloved Italian Summer Camp was last Friday. I realized at that point that these were truly my students/my children and that I was going to leave a part of my heart here in Milan, Italy.

As part of my going away present, they gave me a book of words and pictures that they made, at which time my tears started to flow and continued all the way through the special “Sotto, Sopra” song that they sang and danced for me. I was treated to a royal send off with hugs, kisses, words of kindness and smiles.

This exchange experience has become more than just a polite visit: it was a sharing of goals and aspirations for the children that we teach collectively in both Italy and America. Perhaps that is where we really start to realize just how similar we are and how many things we have to learn from one another.

Among my most precious souvenirs is the Animatore tee shirt, the pictures that I took, and my precious little homemade book that truly captured my heart.

10 Reasons to Attend Summer Camp in Italy

10 Reasons to Attend Summer Italian Camp

My mission in Italy is to be an American teacher and learn about the Italian schools, education and teaching.  As part of a teacher exchange program that is being sponsored by the Delaware Italian American Educational Association in conjunction with the Delaware Commission on Italian Heritage and Culture and the Delaware Department of Education, I am a Delaware teacher in Italy. There are two Italian teachers in Delaware, Matteo and Francesca, who are working at the Italian Summer Language Camp at Brandywine Springs Elementary as part of the exchange.

I have been part of an Italian Summer Camp in Milan, Italy that includes children from age six to fourteen.  The camp gives children a place to go and constructive things to do in the summer, serving many underprivileged families of working parents. This is an active camp with a learning component. I was invited to observe and eventually join in the fun and excitement. Here are ten observations or truths about my experience.

  1. Smile often- children at this camp smile, a lot. They are completely at home at the camp and seem to feel confident and comfortable. Their individual differences are celebrated and managed by a team of caring, Animatore, trained 13-15 year old counselors who work with the children all day.
  2. Stay active – start with a friendly game of basketball, go onto soccer, duck-duck goose, ball games, relays, running, jumping throwing and dancing. Stay active all day. Italian camp children’s secret to good health: keep moving
  3. Give hugs – Hugs cure many ailments, show affection, affirm friendships, create new friendships, heal emotional wounds, keep everyone in touch, keep everyone level, make everyone feel special and are the exact right thing to do in summer camp. Hugs go along with pats on the back, high fives and just arms draped over shoulder. Connection in a real way. Sitting close in a circle, sitting on laps, being connected and touching are a major way to share friendships here.
  4. Hang out with your family – camp is divided into four families that are formed by multi-age groups. At the top are the Animatore, the older camp counselors who stay with the group and attend to any needs that children may have. They are the mama and papa of the group and also the authority if needed.  They dish out hugs and approval in bucket-loads. Younger children often crawl into the lap of an Animatore and are comforted with words of understanding.
  5. Hang out with your friends – camp has plenty of times to hang out with your friends. Playing games usually goes along age lines with the elementary divided from the middle school aged children. Many children spend the day together playing games, laughing and having fun.
  6. Mangia, mangia – lunch is served on white plates, pasta, vegetables, fruit and lots of affection from the lunch ladies. The food is outstanding, homemade and plentiful.
  7. Spend free time doing what you like- after lunch children visit the game room and play ping pong or fooz ball.  Children are free to spend time coloring or playing hopscotch with friends. There are plenty of hand clapping games and impromptu competitions on the soccer field and basketball court. Children in small groups sing songs with each other and tell stories.
  8. Get homework done – older students and adult volunteers, some former teachers, have time in the afternoon to work with the children on their homework. They receive workbooks full of homework for the summer and camp allows them to bring it with them to do with supervision.
  9. Sing and dance – everyday as an important part of the day, include music and movement. All kinds of camp songs and popular dances are used to keep everyone musically fulfilled
  10. Include everyone – everyone is invited to camp including those with physical and emotional challenges. The children learn to accept and understand how similar they all are and to understand the differences with compassion.

Oh, one more thing – listen to stories – Padre Don Guissepe tells stories and sings songs in church at the end of the day. The message is upbeat and life affirming, just the essence of this summer, children, great leadership at this incredible Italian camp.

Little People: Big Ideas

When we showed the video of Rehoboth Beach that I made to the students at the school, they wanted to know all about it.   Was that the Atlantic Ocean (I showed them the kids skimming on the beach). Was America beautiful? Oh  yes I said with a bit of melancholy…  Did your son like the beach? Well, yes. They grew up on the  beach and to skim and surf and fish is a way of life.

Students in Italy want to know! They understand that Milan is landlocked an they are interested in learning about other areas!  Delaware has a beach! What about that beach! I showed them the video of the Boardwalk and Funland.  They were glued to the screen. The frog game, the snail game, the duck game, the carousel, the helicopters, the parachute. They saw a small part of my life at the beach and boardwalk and they decided that was just fine with them!

Summer Work

Children in Italy get homework in the summer. As a teacher I vote we start this in America. Listen up! There are several GREAT reasons why this would be valuable.

  1. Children need to practice skills.
  2. Parents can get involved with the curriculum
  3. We could actually teach a foreign language in our schools!
  4. More content+More study time could mean deeper understanding!

Students here have thick workbooks full of practice for math, science, language and social studies.

When I told my Italian students that children in the USA have no summer homework, they all wanted to come and live in America!

Which Is Better? America or Italy?

Honestly, the conversations that I have had in the last week have been amazing with the children here! They want to know about America and know many things already that really surprise me like our President’s name and where Delaware is located. They know that California is cool and they want to see New York.

Today in a conversation with an animatore, the older counselors at camp, he told me the reasons that America is better than Italy. America has great technology, good  and is consumer items and it is not so boring as crummy old Italy.  Then he asked me what I thought. I settled into my teacher mode immediately and sang high praises for the work that was being done every day in the camp, the character of the children and the caring of the animatore.

Not everything is about material wealth.

I explained that in America, even though there seems to be more wealth than here, that does not make the people any happier. We often seek material  things for validation.

I do think that America is catapulting ahead on the technology front especially as it relates to schools and learning. My Italian friend observed that everyone in America has an i-Pod. I have to agree in a broad sense. Here the technology is not that consistent, available, affordable or reliable. Their cell phone system is very expensive.

So there are differences but I had to chuckle about his characterization of Italy as being boring! How many times have I heard my students say the same thing about the Cape region -so boring!

I suggested that the grass is always greener on the other side and that children are the same at the same age in most places. We laughed and agreed.

Waterpark Ondaland

These Italians really know how to create marvelous places. There are piazzas, arenas, cathedrals and an amazing water  park just outside of Milan.

Today was water park day for the campers. There were so many children waiting to get into the park that initially I felt as if we would not find any place to play in the water.

I was wrong! This park had miles of pools to splash, ride rafts, go down tubes and get cool. There was plenty of room in the water. I loved watching “my campers” enjoy the fun but they would have none of that. They pulled me into the water and demanded that I play!  I did just that with utter abandon!  Splash and run, splash and dunk, splash and swim and then the ultimate: floating. Just floating! We were all there just to enjoy the water and there was plenty of that all day long.

The most touching part for me was watching a sister take care of her little brother in the water. He was about 6 and she was 9. She didn’t leave his side and made sure that he was always OK.  They had their lunch together and enjoyed the day.

A group of girls and I walked around the park and even though my Italian language is not great, we managed to talk about our families, our friends and the color of fingernail polish. I just LOVE these children.

Simple Things

Simple things really mean a lot. Like the video that I took the first week at the Oratoria Camp at Milan. Today Father Don Guiseppe screened the 20 minute video to my harshest critics, the children themselves. They loved it and I felt as if I had provided to them a small measure of a reflection into their summer learning experience.

Next Luca, an animatore, and great English speaking 17-year-old counselor befriended me and helped me to understand the nature of the Italian high school experience. Such a revelation to me about the various high schools and how students must choose at 14 years old which kind of school he/she prefers.  Yikes! Difficult to do at that at any age in any country!

Today, the Director of the camp, Gabrielle, had to chastise the students for behavior. Even though I did not know the words that he was saying in Italian, I immediately connected with the speech! It is the same talk that I have had countless times with my students about respect for each other and the property that we share. It is a speech that is “TEACHERSPEAK!”, and I so get it. Isn’t it funny that we are all the same all over the world?

Today during a church service, Father Don Guiseppe talked to the children and used a present as the theme. He called up on the altar several children and then he said “Diana” to which I said, who me?

I cannot translate the story but I would bet that it had to do with gifts that we give one another and that are valuable. That is how I felt when today I was able to teach some popular dances to the Italian children. They followed me through the Cupid Shuffle, the Macarena, the Limbo and my favorite Delmarva song, the Chicken Dance. So beautiful the experience, I cannot describe it. I can only say that there is so much to be learned from each other and the teacher exchanges are a great way to make this learning grow.  It’s not just about language, but about culture and appreciation for each other.

The Last Supper, Duomo and La Scala

Yesterday was my dream day: many of the finest places of Milan captured in one 24 hour period.

Last things first. La Scala is only the world’s most famous opera house. Consisting of boxes that reach seven stories high, Donatella, my new Italian friend, treated me to a night of operatic high jinks watching “The Barber of Seville” make mischief with enthusiastic merriment. The stage is one of the largest in Italy and from where I sat, I could see part of the orchestra during the performance, a rare treat.  This was the place where I observed first hand the sophisticated sense of style and artistry that seems to be present everywhere in Italy and not just on stage!  Women dressed for the occasion wearing dazzling, dresses, stiletto shoes and chic jewels.  Men were dashing in that roguish kind of Italian way.  La Scala Opera is a serious yet playful place for summer entertainment.

Milan has many beautiful churches but the one that is most photographed is the Duomo, Santa Maria Nascente.  Perhaps the most beautiful exterior of any structure that I have ever seen, the Duomo exceeds any expectation for beauty. There is so much striking sculpture on the outside and so many amazing stained glass window masterpieces on the inside that it would require multiple visits just to take it in.  My favorite part was the inlaid flooring in simple bold patterns of marble.

Finally, Leonardo’s Last Supper is here in Milan at Santa Maria Delle Gracie. Donatella obtained tickets for us to visit. I expected a small framed painting then when we entered the room, I was stunned by an enormous fresco up on the wall. I don’t know why I thought it was a small painting, perhaps because we always had a copy of this work hanging in our dining room when I was growing up, but I can report that there is nothing small about this masterpiece.

We marveled at the symmetry of the design, named all of the apostles and decided that their reactions to Jesus announcing that he would be betrayed, were clearly evident in this work. It is a masterpiece but having seen it I can say that it is a work about humanity, each apostle’s face and gestures giving away a bit of our own insecurity and disbelief about life.  People must witness art to fully appreciate it. No picture can compare.

Scavenger Hunt

All over the church grounds today, the teams of children were scurrying to find clues and win the scavenger hunt. There were many difficult tasks to perform first. They had to kick the ball in the goal, make baskets and work as a team to solve the riddles.  This is the kind of thing that children love and perfect for a summer’s day.

Milan is hot in the summer but about the same as my hometown, Lewes, Delaware. I’ve learned to say “fa caldo” over and over but the children don’t seem to mind the heat at all. They run and play, just happy to be free.

We talked a lot today about funding of schools as I tried to prepare a video from my Flip camera and encountered many technical obstacles which Don Giuseppe and Gabrielle helped me out with. Italian schools in the north are generally funded better than in the south and the private has more resources than the public.  The classrooms usually don’t have computers or projectors. Smart boards are rare. The teachers were hoping for more money to support more technology for their children.

This is the start of the weekend and my gracious host Donatella has volunteered to act as my tour guide to Milan tomorrow. I am so excited!  The Last Supper is here and I get to see it!  Arrividerchi America!

Instituto Sorella Francescane

I must be fitting in now. My favorite lady who runs the concession stand sees me coming and makes me an espresso! I am forever in her debt!  Her name is Gianna and she slips me little pasteries that I adore. She treats all of the children with the same love and respect each one feeling as if they really are loved.

Today the lunch ladies continued to give me disapproving looks as I only ate half of my pasta (delicious in every way but way too much!) and refused to eat the bread! How do I survive Italy with all of this incredible food? I demolished the zucchini though!

The school camp that I visited today is staffed by wonderful teachers including John Piero, Valeria, Chiara and Selena. The children were waiting for me with a welcome poster and a song and I was truly touched.  A technical difficulty with the sound system left Don in the lurch but I pulled out my handy i-Pod and soon we were all dancing to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. All kids love this song!

I was impressed by the children knowing English numbers and by the friendly nature of the nuns who filtered in and out of the camp. I am eager to set up a relationship with them for communication between our classrooms in Delaware and their Milan classrooms.