“It was a wonderful, serendipitous experience. An important one for our pupils, who demonstrated great open-mindedness and willingness to get to know others and to experience learning together.”
In April 2018, approximately forty pupils from the fourth and fifth years in Scicli travelled to Verbania. They saw mountains and Lake Maggiore for the first time, and met with their peers in Piedmont. They were thrilled with their new friends, the school and its neat garden, its labyrinth of tulips, canteen, English lab and LABolla, the scientific laboratory dedicated to food that was designed as part of the Fare Scuola project.
The friendships forged in Piedmont were further reinforced the following month, when around twenty of the pupils from Verbania headed in the opposite direction on a school trip to Scicli. They stayed for three days, falling in love with Sicily, its delicious “arancini” with ragù, its greenhouse-grown tomatoes, and the school’s off-site annex located in the coastal village of Sampieri, where in 2016 the outgoing tide of Fare Scuola left the Atelier del Mare (Workshop of the Sea). The latter is located on the square in front of the school, just a few steps from the beach and the fishermen’s quay; it consists of a football pitch and a workshop, where pupils can literally bring the sea to school in order to observe and analyse it, one element at a time: tubers and roots, pine cones, pebbles, shells, algae and plastic – anything children can pick up on the shore. In the Atelier, they can place the objects in cupboards, use folding tables to better examine the finds collected on the beach, and arrange them to create stories and imaginative compositions.
Learning through experimentation
“The aim was to create an innovative space where children could experiment and experience various materials, collected from the marine environment physically or by using technological tools such as digital cameras and computers. The colourful furniture, all made using natural materials, has given the school a vision that is more open, dynamic and accessible for the children,” explained Occhipinti, who is not a teacher at Sampieri yet has followed the project since its beginning.
The trip to Sicily continued with excursions and lessons from experts on the environment, the traditions and the beautiful baroque architecture in Scicli and its surroundings. The whole experience was made even more thrilling by the fact that in those very days, new episodes of the popular crime drama “Commissario Montalbano” were being filmed in the square and in Punta Secca, location of the famous house on the beach where the fictional TV detective lives.
The teacher remembers that thanks to this experience, “our pupils have also developed greater independence, undertaking a trip, expanding their friendships and working to maintain them from a distance. The children’s families also really appreciated this experience. The Atelier del Mare project was a huge opportunity for us: both to have a more beautiful, functional and attractive school, and to improve education itself.”
Following the exchange with Verbania, the Fare Scuola project in Scicli experienced some uncertainties but also new opportunities. “In Sampieri,” Occhipinti explains, “in the last couple of years there has been a substantial turnover of teachers that has slightly disrupted this educational project; however, this year it got back off the ground thanks to a colleague transferred from the Emilia region. The principal immediately sent her to the small complex with the task of getting the Atelier back up and running: after just one month at the school, I can say she has accomplished great things. She has had the spaces rebuilt, and the children have resumed following the method. These results can be achieved only with human resources in place, if teachers are sufficiently open – which is not always straightforward.”
Meanwhile the seed planted in Sampieri has continued to germinate in the rest of the school in Scicli. “The Atelier project first gave two teachers the opportunity to begin training in Reggio Emilia and to take part in refresher courses in other parts of Italy. After this experience we raised awareness in the school, presenting this educational model and now, on top of the Atelier del Mare, we are trying to begin various programmes using this methodology – based on learning by doing research, within various inter-class groups, with other teachers and other children at Vittorini.” With this same aim, also other teachers at Scicli have started training in Reggio Emilia. “We want to give life to a new model for schools and education, creating environments in which children can experiment and work in groups, with focus teams rather than the traditional lesson format with the teacher’s desk facing the class.”
The positive effects for the local area
And there is more. “The Fare Scuola project,” continues Occhipinti, “was the beginning of a journey that has allowed the school in Scicli to participate in many other initiatives, such as the Abitare il paese (Live the Town) project in partnership with the Italian Order of Architects, applying the same method also to other contexts. Having the Atelier in Sampieri has enabled us to increasingly open up the school to the surrounding area, also with external activities led by experts, who helped us to study natural environments in greater detail, understand various types of cultivation, discover how aquaculture works and how to build an aquarium. Last year, after the end of the school year, we managed to organise a two-week residential camp because we’ve now got the tools to hold workshops with experts in the fields of sport, environmental issues and science.” Fare Scuola has also had important knock-on effects on a social level. “Sampieri’s inhabitants are mainly foreign families originally from Albania, Tunisia and Morocco. Thanks to the project, they now have more opportunities for integration.”
Building the school each day
In the wake of the Fare Scuola project, the initiatives carried out in Scicli and Verbania went beyond structural requalification and the transformation of classrooms, workshops, courtyards and gardens, and were complemented by a training programme that engaged teachers, families and pedagogy experts in order to meet children’s educational needs. School is never static: it is built day after day, with everyone’s contribution. This is the only way it can become a social and cultural stronghold for the community and, as in Scicli and Verbania, a bridge joining different places and cultures.