Twelve years in action, hundred-sixty students, a staff made of thirty people, two different locations: what La Scuola – Italian International School – represents today for Italians, Americans, and other communities in San Francisco is much more than what these numbers tell.
La Piccola Scuola Italiana, founded in 2001 by some Italian-American families who wanted to keep a connection with their Italian heritage, started as a language school and is now a place where education comes with innovation. Thanks to the philosophy introduced by the Reggio Emilia model, passionate and skilled teachers show an outstanding ability in attracting students from different cultures and nationalities, without losing their main scope.
The new location of La Scuola opened back in September right on time for the beginning of the new academic year, while the one at 20th Street, after a 19-week construction period, has now got a 3000-square-foot extension.
Lama Nachman is a Palestinian scientist at Intel, mom of a 7 year-old student on 2 Grade, and – once asked to explain the reasons of choosing La Scuola for his kid – she honestly admitted: “I feel the connection with Italy by heart, not by blood. I love the vision of the school, the way kids are integrated and well connected, not only because of the language”.
The school, like also underlined by Consul Mauro Battocchi, has been able to bring the best of the Italian education system in America. The school attracts not only Italians, but also international families, because it allows “a mingle with other local communities, with a model that can be surely duplicated” he said.
The school is now seen as a symbol of Italian excellence abroad, as the visit made by the Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, a few months ago proved. While meeting children and teachers, touring classrooms and playgrounds, and joining the daily “family lunch”, Mr Renzi called for an action in the reform of the Italian education system, starting also from innovative models like the Reggio Emilia’s one.
A few weeks ago we met Valentina Imbeni who has been the Head of the School for seven years. Since 2007, her commitment and passion have been making a big difference in keeping values and quality untouched.
How does La Scuola combine innovation and tradition?
The Reggio Emilia model has a constructivist approach to education. Kids are not told, they are asked to be creative, make research, and explore. We are not focused on the teaching, but on the learning. This model represents innovation in the Italian education, although it has not been recognised from the official system yet.
The Italian language is an added value for your school, but not the only one. Why do families choose La Scuola for their kids?
Parents think the Italian approach is the best for their children. They like our teachers’ love and warmth, as well as the whole learning process. Only 30-40% of the families have one Italian speaking parent. We have more than sixteen nationalities. This pushes us to do better and better, to also be recognised as an International Baccalaureate School as soon as possible.
Who gets the biggest challenge from this environment?
Students are usually bilingual, some of them since they are two years old. Others learn to switch from Italian to English very easily. Parents, instead, need support when they have to deal with their kids who want to speak a different language. Also for our teachers, sometimes, it’s not easy: they are committed and passionate, but they need the ability to use different strategies to communicate when, at the very beginning, children don’t understand Italian.
Among guidelines you give to families, one suggests parents to take Italian classes. Why?
Children who see parents taking Italian classes get excited because it proves support for what they do at school and consider the learning process as a family initiative. It is very important that they feel part of the family system, also by speaking the same language.
Besides becoming an IB World School, which is the next goal La Scuola wants to achieve?
Right now we have kids in pre K-3 Grade. The thing we are working on is to add a class each year to try to get to the K-8 Grade as soon as we can.
The commitment Valentina has shown over the last years has also led to propose the school as candidate to become an IB World School by next Spring, which would allow the school to include the Primary Years Programme (PYP), the Middle Years Programme (MYP), or the Diploma Programme. This would also mean La Scuola will be able to join other American schools with a common philosophy: high quality and challenging education for their students.