Whitefriars featured in Il Globo Magazine

From Progetti piccoli e grandi per incentivare le classi — Il Globo


MELBOURNE – Whitefriars Catholic College is a boys’ high school in Donvale, surrounded by greenery less than 30 kilometres from Melbourne’s city centre.

Founded in 1961, the institute now welcomes just over a thousand students, who have access to a varied educational offer that also includes two languages: Italian and Indonesian.

Until last year, Chinese was one of the language options, but the school has decided not to continue, except for those who are already studying it.

Despite the fact that Italian is the most popular choice among students, the declining numbers still reflect the difficulties that have arisen with the pandemic, as explained by Learning leader for languages and Italian teacher Paula Barca together with colleague Olivia Zagari.

“We don’t have a class for Year 12 this year but only five students for Year 11. They are the students who have suffered the most heavily from the impact of the pandemic, they were in Years 7 and 8 and they missed the exposure to the Italian class. Now we are optimistic looking at Year 10, where we have 27 students and we think we will be able to maintain a good number for the VCE as well,” explains Zagari.

The commitment of the group of Italian teachers is now to bring the numbers back to at least pre-Covid levels and for this reason they try to involve their students by offering them various opportunities to test themselves with the language, but also to learn about Italian culture and traditions.

“The trip to Italy that we organize every two years is always a good incentive, but smaller things also help, such as the international football tournament that we proposed last year during the Women’s World Cup. The students had a lot of fun challenging the students of the other languages,” says Barca, adding with a smile that “Italy naturally won.”

Whitefriars Catholic College has partnered with the Ruffini Institute in Imperia, Liguria, and Italian and Australian students take turns flying to the other side of the world to immerse themselves in a different culture and experience first-hand the lifestyle of their peers.

When they go to Italy, Australian pupils spend a week in class, an experience that not only allows them to improve their language and expand their vocabulary, but also gives them a taste of the school system and how different the way of teaching is.

As guests of the school’s families, they spend seven days completely immersed in the language, before continuing to discover the boot.

“The trip lasts almost three weeks in total and in addition to Imperia we go to Florence where the students participate in a cooking class; then Rome, Siena, Pisa, Milan and Venice. It’s an incredible experience for everyone,” assures Barca.

The biggest challenge is probably to propose the activities to be done in the classroom in an engaging way that allows you to keep the children’s interest high.

But these teachers seem to have a lot of resources and creativity that go with them in giving students the right motivation to learn.

“It can happen that grammar becomes a little too cumbersome for students, and in that case you risk losing them,” Barca points out. But to speak a language, you need to know grammar; So, we try to convey it without letting them notice it, taking inspiration from real life. Exercises that include role-playing are one of the favorite activities for kids; In particular, we organized a speed dating, during which they only had a couple of minutes to say hello and introduce themselves to a partner, before moving on to the next one. They had a great time.”

Paula Barca and Olivia Zagari are well aware of the added value of a second language, as they are both of Italian origin. The first was born to parents from Abruzzo who have always spoken to her in dialect:

“Then, when I was still a child, I started leafing through a vocabulary we had at home and learned verbs. My mom was very proud of me,” Barca recalls. Olivia Zagari’s love for Italian was born in primary school, a love that she then cultivated over the years, attending the classes of the Co.As.It. on Saturdays.

“When I enrolled at university, after so many years of Italian, I couldn’t imagine stopping studying it; so, I decided to get a Bachelor of Science and a Diploma in Languages, before the Master in Teaching,” she says.

“Thinking back to my Year 12, I believe that the awareness that the Italian language gave me helped me to express myself better in English and, even now that I am a teacher, I talk to my students about how Italian has also facilitated me in the world of work, since the first part-time job in Chadstone, where, being there is a large Italian community, They were looking for bilingual people,” adds the teacher, who also emphasizes how important the cultural aspect is to her, in addition to the linguistic one.