Every Child Loves La Scuola

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Grazie to iItaly.org for this lovely posting about La Scuola International School!

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This Italian immersion school in San Francisco started as a playgroup in 2002 and now counts 320 children. Director Valentina Imbeni: "Parents from different backgrounds chose us not only because they love Italy and Italian culture but also because we are inspired by the Reggio Emilia educational approach and are the First International Baccalaureate (IB) K8 World School in the city."

Teachers at La Scuola International School believe that the world can be changed through education. For this reason, the school mission is “To Inspire Brave Learners to Shape the Future.” Although La Scuola is an “Italian immersion” school, many parents from all over the world enroll their kids here.

Not only because they are in love with Italy and Italian culture, but also because it is the First International Baccalaureate (IB) K8 World School in San Francisco and it is inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach, a constructivist educational philosophy first developed after World War II by pedagogist Loris Malaguzzi and parents in the villages around Reggio Emilia, Italy.

It’s almost unbelievable that it started out as a playgroup in 2002 to evolve into a recreational program and then a fully licensed preschool, La Piccola Scuola Italiana (The Little Italian School). Next year they will inaugurate their 8th grade and move to a new campus.

Valentina Imbeni, director of La Scuola since 2007, is part of this great success.

Mrs. Imbeni, how did you get involved with La Scuola?

”I first moved to the Bay Area in 2000 to work as a researcher in biomedical engineering for the University of Berkeley. But after the birth of my two sons, Stefano and Matteo, I discovered my passion for children and early childhood education. So, in 2006 I got involved with what was at that time just a small cooperative of Italian-American and Italian families.

How could La Scuola go from that first, playgroup to a school with over 260 children?
Actually, we will have 320 children enrolled next year! I joined the group with my first child, but after only six months the school went through a moment of crisis. We had lost our Italian teacher with a license and had to change location. The board asked me to help them rebuild the school. I was in maternity leave expecting my second child, and it was a particular moment in my life as I had just lost my father, so I decided to step in. It would have been such a shame to lose this group. Further, there was no real Italian school west of New York, we needed to do something.

I found a new place, we enrolled with the Reggio Emilia method - I am from Modena and knew that approach very well - and created something more structured. We engaged with the community and started to fundraise. We also engaged with an architect who helped us to create a school according to the architectural principles of the Reggio Emilia method. We soon became a model of education and were approached by parents from other communities and countries.

We have now over 31 languages spoken in the school. We like to think that we offer high-quality education, we are not only an Italian school. From next year, you will be offering an 8th grade class.

Are you planning of going beyond this grade?
We have been growing a grade a year and people are already asking for a high school program, but for now, we will stop at the middle school level. This year we also became a “scuola paritaria.” It means that we have been recognized by the Italian government and we are the second school in the US to receive this title. It’s a great result as there are only 43 “scuole paritarie” around the world, very few compared to the French system that has 55 recognized schools only in the US.

Are all your teachers Italians?

No, but they all have native-like fluency in Italian. In pre-school Italian is spoken approximately 90%, but then less and less over the years to give students the possibility to be proficient in other schools while being bilingual. From grade 6-8 they will speak 70% English and 30% Italian.

Where do you find funds?

Mainly from parents, but not all of them. We also offer generous financing programs. About 30% of our students receive a form of help that can be from $2000 to $28,000 a year, which is almost the total cost of one year. We raise money every year to support people who cannot pay full tuition. We can reach even half a million dollars in donations. Our most successful event is the Dolce Vita gala where we auction gifts from our donors.

Can you explain your approach? Isn’t the Reggio Emilia method only for kindergarten children?

It started as an early childhood program but later became very famous in the US thanks to an article in Newsweek published in 1981 about the best schools in the world. Ever since, it has been applied in different grades successfully. It’s an inquiry-based type of learning. It is cross-cultural and focuses more on the learning part than the teaching promoting critical thinking.

Are there any kids of celebrities attending?

There are but I am not allowed to share their names.

Source URL: http://www.iitaly.org/magazine/focus/facts-stories/article/every-child-loves-la-scuola Links [1] http://www.iitaly.org/files/imbenipng [2] https://www.lascuolasf.org/ [3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reggio_Emilia_approach [4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reggio_Children_Foundation

A Voice from our Parent Community

We are so grateful to have another parent of the La Scuola International School ‘Famiglia’ sharing her family’s story!

Rossa, a parent of a PreSchool student, shares about her experience of having a strong community has given tremendous support to raising her son and having him feel happy and confident in school!

The saying goes: “It takes a village to raise a child,” and as a family with both parents working full time we embrace this sentiment wholeheartedly. Both our families live a 3 - 5 hour plane ride away, so the network we have that supports our son is precious and one we rely heavily on. I think that’s why when it came time to decide on preschool for our son I was stressed. Many parents we talked to already had a shortlist of schools and a point of view on the teaching method they preferred so we listened to those we trusted and started the list of schools we wanted to visit.

Visiting the schools was a surreal experience. At the time our son had just turned 2, so while he was full of personality, I felt the weight of the world in having to choose the right school for him as I thought to myself: “I have no idea what he likes!” I also found it hard to truly get a sense of each school, the teachers and what the day-to-day would really be like. I also struggled with how many schools talked about how ensuring the right kids were admitted, but how did they know that through meeting us on a 45 minute tour and reading 2 - 3 questions I’d answered about my son?

These feelings of uncertainty changed when we visited La Scuola International School. We heard about the school through a friend/co-worker whose daughter was enrolled and were intrigued by the benefits of language immersion so added it to our list. I wasn’t able to go to the open house, but my husband went and came home smiling and said to me: “You’ll love this place. They said if you don’t want your children hugged or kissed then don’t send them here.” I was intrigued. After my son had his interview, he couldn’t stop singing one of the Italian songs they sang and that was the signal I needed that he’d be happy here. Then on the day of our interview, as I was sitting in the front entrance waiting, I watched all the kids run into school, many ahead of their parents, smiling and laughing, and I just had this feeling that we’d found our village for this next phase in life.

We’ve just completed our first semester at La Scuola International in the Grandi Preschool program and over the holiday break getting to spend more time with our son and reflecting back on the last year, while it’s cliche to say, it’s amazing how much our son has grown up over the first part of the school year. Throughout the holiday break we’d often hear him singing Italian songs, set up his stuffed animals in a mock classroom and sing “Ciao ciao” to welcome all of them and over dinner told us about how he’s waiting for plants in his garden at school to grow.

This last week was our first week back at school in the New Year and walking into the gates and seeing his teachers and other parents at drop-off and pick-off was like seeing friends and family again.  From catching glimpses of his teachers talking to him in Italian and seeing the understanding in his face to watching he and other kids jump in puddles together showing signs of a growing bond and missed time together over the break, it’s clear that as a family we’ve all found a new little village in La Scuola.

A Very Special Evening Honoring a Member of Our Community


A wonderful honor was granted to a member of our Italian community this past week. Friends and foodies celebrated legendary food activist Alice Waters, founder of Chez Panisse (http://www.chezpanisse.com/about/alice-waters/) and Edible School Garden, as she was knighted for all that she has done to bridge ties between Italy and America! She was given the honor of Cavaliere dell’Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana by Italy’s Ambassador to the United States, Armando Varricchio.

A magical performance was given, by our very own La Scuola International School’s Ambassador Ensemble under the guidance of incredible Maestro Carlo Dean, at the Consulate General of Italy in San Francisco.

Alice Waters bEing Knighted given the honor of Cavaliere dell’Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana by Italy’s Ambassador to the United States, Armando Varricchio.

Alice Waters bEing Knighted given the honor of Cavaliere dell’Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana by Italy’s Ambassador to the United States, Armando Varricchio.

Thank you to our Consul General Lorenzo and Sheila Pierce Ortona for such an incredible opportunity. Our orchestra of the Italian American School in San Francisco, La Scuola International School, played magnificently for the occasion.

Italy and we here in San Francisco, are lucky to have this new knight who has taught the world that food is an expression of pure love, and best when cultivated, cooked, and served from the freshest of ingredients and the purest of the earth’s soil. Two of her special guests were Carlo Petrini, her mentor and founder of the Slow Food movement, and Cecilia Chiang, iconic Chinese culinary legend. 

We are so grateful to be afforded an opportunity to take part in such a special occasion!