La Dolce Vita!

September 22, 2015
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An eighth-grader explained year-end testing at his school — in addition to taking written tests, he’s developing a creative project and a presentation that lasts several hours. Sound unfamiliar? It’s no wonder — this is testing in Italian schools.

A group of Baylor School of Education master’s candidates explored this and other differences between American and Italian schools during a study-abroad experience in May. This year, five students and two professors took the trip.

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“The student said his project had a dream theme,” Baylor student Malloy Butler explained. “He was comparing A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Alice in Wonderland, and Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. The independence of his learning and the appreciation of his creativity are different than what we see here.”

Dr. Trena Wilkerson, professor of curriculum and instruction, said the comparison of the two educational systems is exactly what the experience is designed to accomplish. Baylor students visit elementary and middle schools in Florence and Rome, and they see a lot of variety even between schools in Italy.

Each school gave me a unique experience,” Alexa Samuel said. “And I hope to apply much of what I observed in my own classroom.”

F15-Italy-GlobalGraphic-400Master’s student Alyssa Messier was fascinated by the Scuola Citta Pestalozzi in Florence, an experimental lab school where students serve as representatives and each class develops a constitution. “It was an amazing experience to see how well it can actually work, and it gave me a new level of excitement for my work in civics education,” Messier said. “It was the epitome of what Baylor has taught me is a good school.”

The Pestalozzi school was a highlight for all the students — even Emily Rice, who has studied abroad on three continents with the School of Education. She said the Pestalozzi school was the most fascinating in Italy, Australia or Costa Rica.

“The school developed a sense of community,” she said. “In the classroom, all supplies are shared, so that students learn to respect community property. It was a great way to prepare them to be good citizens."

Italian students also enjoy a freedom that American students don’t, Morgan Slechta said. “Students were given much more responsibility. They could walk around the school without a hall pass or someone to accompany them.”

Baylor students also noticed that beautiful original artwork by students covered each school’s interior walls. Florence’s North Machiavelli Middle School, a partner campus of the School of Education, has artisans from the neighborhood who mentor students in art — from landscape painting to violin construction.

“A major part of our trip is understanding the culture in which these schools are set, including the importance of art,” said Dr. Randy Wood, who has developed much of the program. “So we see the historic and artistic sites to experience what Italian people have lived for thousands of years.”
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