As it rains outside, we’ve piled into in a colorful classroom with neon green trimming. Bookshelves line the walls and we hear children chattering in the hallways. The morning bell rings as we begin to talk to English teacher Guiliana Pancaldi. We’re at Bologna’s Istituto Comprensivo No. 10, a middle school whose mission focuses on normalizing diversity. Istituto No.10 differs from its counterparts in Bologna as 34% of its students are immigrant children. Guliana explains this further as well as issues of integration, learning curves, and cultural adjustment.
The school’s mission is “integration, well-being for students, and increasing knowledge for secondary school as well as life.” One tool used to to achieve this mission is the use of learning intensive labs, Guiliana tells us. According to Italian law students cannot be placed in grades more than one year above or below the target grade for an age group. This means a 12 year old student who may be at a first grade reading level cannot be put in class with students below age 11. To counteract this Istituto No.10 has subject specific labs. Students in need of extra help in certain areas such as English or math are enrolled in a small specialized class separate from the regular flow of curriculum. In labs, the teaching is fit to the student’s pace and the class size is much smaller allowing more room for personalized and effective learning. Guiliana says children who have migrated to Italy are often in need of lab time depending on their level of Italian. Some students know no Italian when they arrive at school which makes everything more difficult for them. Lab are meant to help ease this difficulty and ensure all students are being properly prepared for future.
Guiliana explains classroom demographics are also an important in terms of integration.
Teaching children aged 11-14, each classroom is constructed to have diverse and proportional demographics of students. Foreign students are put in classrooms with native born Italians, and classes attempt to be 50% boys and 50% girls. Students’ nationalities include Pakistani, Afghani, Romanian, Peruvian, Czech, and Chinese among many others. It’s key to normalize this diversity at school, says Guiliana, because often it’s not normalized outside of school.
thirty-four percent of the school’s students are immigrants. With this in mind one of us asks how the teaching of Italian culture and respect of a student’s home culture are balanced. Crucifixes adorn seemingly every room in the school, and the Vatican has sponsored an optional Catholic education program for one hour per week. It’s a hard balance, explain Guiliana, and one that makes communication between staff and students imperative, as well as parent/teacher relationships. It’s clear that Istituto No. 10 has a vested interest in the personal lives of students and uses this relationship to help strike a cultural balance. It seems teachers are encouraged to be aware and use their best judgement in certain instances. Respect for a student’s home culture is a priority among the staff although in cases of violence at home she admits there will be intervention or at least a denunciation of that lifestyle.
In addition to Guiliana we also spoke to the headmaster of the school, Emilio Porcaro, who has begun work with an adult school in the area. He spoke of the past negative media attention place on Istituto No.10. As there’s a high percentage of foreign and immigrant students, there has been past controversy over the nature of the school’s mission and strategy. A portion of the public accused the school of segregating foreign students and creating a “ghetto”class but after an investigation of how the tailored labs were working, the school has become a model for others schools needing to integrate immigrant children.