Experiential learning with Castelli International School

Castelli's countryside campus overlooks Rome

ROME - The Italian Insider interviewed Marianne Palladino, School Head at the Castelli International School of Rome, to find out about the school’s home-learning programme, the school’s unique experiential language learning approach to Italian, the school’s campus replete with vineyards and olive groves, and the school’s motto…

When I hear, I forget,  

When I see, I remember, 

When I do, I understand.


Italian Insider: What is the ethos behind Castelli international school, and can you tell us a little bit about the origins of the school’s motto?  

Marianne Palladino: Learning should be an enjoyable and unforgettable experience where students are the center. They are encouraged to take on challenges and solve problems by experimenting, making mistakes and learning from them. That is why the Chinese proverb was adopted as the school’s ethos. Thus when 4th graders studied ancient Egyptian technology they actually built models of the shadoof to get water for irrigation. The 8th graders role-played the signing of the Magna Carta representing King John and the barons.  These experiential forms of learning are never forgotten.


II: Castelli international school offers an education in English with incredible opportunities for Italian language development. What is it that makes this diverse international school experience so special? 

Ms.P: Having researched international curricula, the Italian Ministerial Programme seemed to have the most challenging, in-depth, and global approach. What it lacked was the experiential learning aspect. Therefore, the more stimulating Anglo-American ‘learn by doing’ methodology was applied to the teaching of the Italian programme which is taught entirely in English except for the 50 minute daily Italian lessons. The Italian examination procedures are also more challenging and require reasoned logical oral skills. Instead of the traditional written testing models, students demonstrate their knowledge through analysis, evaluation, and synthesis orally in front of an examining commission in English and Italian. The result being that graduating students have a competitive advantage when entering national or international high schools. The fact that CIS attracts students from different countries and cultural backgrounds fosters a leaning environment in which students not only learn in the classroom setting but also from one another.


II: How have Castelli been able to adapt to the coronavirus epidemic? In what ways has the school community come together?

Ms.P: It has been a remarkable period in which the team ethic of the school and the support of the community have been more evident than ever before. Within two days of the closure, the school was able to deliver a full programme of activities that matched the regular school timetable. That quickly evolved into almost all lessons being delivered by means of online virtual lessons. This involved a huge effort and teamwork from teachers and management as well as the support of parents to ensure their children had the right equipment to do their lessons. We were determined that pupils’ education would not be adversely affected by the lockdown and in all classes we are now set to complete all the programmes. We believed from the start that this was not just an issue of academic education but of wellbeing and that the best way to help the wellbeing of our school community was to provide a well-structured programme.


II: How has the home-learning programme been going? Have the staff had any additional training given the unprecedented nature of this crisis?

Ms.P: It has all gone extremely well and I think the school has evolved greatly during this period. Our ambitious plan to provide almost all lessons as online virtual lessons was a huge challenge but this created the necessity for teachers to upskill in their use of technology rapidly. The training they received was excellent but there was still a huge amount of teamwork required as teachers continuously helped one another along making sure that no-one was left abandoned or on their own to manage this difficult situation. When we return to a more normal situation, the teachers will have all these new skills and lessons are going to become even more multi-dimensional, engaging, and effective. The children have also developed greatly during this time. Their technological capabilities have been enhanced and many have surprised us with how their learning actually accelerated during this period.


II: Are there any fun assemblies or online events that the kids have been able to get involved in? 

Ms.P: We have weekly assemblies and many have said they have found these to be emotional occasions. The assemblies, which parents could attend as well, generate a wonderful sense of community which is needed during these times and helps us to reflect on how to manage what we are all going through. Assemblies include pupil presentations, dances, meditations, exercise routines, and there are weekly themes such as fancy-dress, crazy hair, and pyjama day, all of which have greatly lifted spirits.


II: The school campus is located in the Alban Hills in Rome. Can you describe the location?

Ms.P: The school is nestled in between vineyards and olive groves, in the smog-free Castelli Romani hills. On clear days one can enjoy a stunning view over the city of Rome, cradled by mountains in the background and actually see St. Peter’s Basilica cupola tower over the ancient city.


II: Can you tell us more about the ‘Earth to Table Project’, and how the campus’ vineyards and garden plots are used to create a fully rounded educational experience.

Ms.P: We are keen to nurture knowledge about sustainable food production and healthy eating choices. Our Earth to Table Project integrates academic disciplines with nutrition, culture, science and the arts where students learn to taste and eat what they grow in their outdoor vegetable plots and in the educational greenhouse. So far the most successful crops have been squash and pumpkins which were used in a multitude of ways by the students, from baking breads and cookies to carving out jack-o-lanterns. 

  Students also discovered that they could make Kale chips. They picked and cleaned the kale leaves, placed them in the oven and when ready sprinkled with a little salt and olive oil (made from olives that  they picked). The older students took the tray full of chips to the elementary children and it all disappeared in seconds. 

  The Student Council raised funds from their pumpkin raffle sale to invest in a food dehydrator that allows them to dry rosemary and sage, among other herbs, as well as fruit and vegetables for snacks. 


II: Do many children’s families end up living in and around the beautiful towns of the Castelli Romani, such as the historic Frascati?

Ms.P: Many of our families choose to live in one of the quaint towns in the proximity of the school. Marino is a wine-making town and famous for its wine festival held in October. It has narrow, cobble-stoned streets and the comforting smell of freshly baked bread lingers in the air in the early mornings. Frascati is just a 10-minute drive away and it’s one of the bigger historic towns in the Castelli Romani hills. It is famous for its noble villas and, of course, for its ‘Frascati’ wine. Some families also choose to live in the Papal town of Castel Gandolfo, nestled on the cone of a volcanic crater and enjoy the breathtaking view of the Albano lake.


II: And how has the school been preparing for the campus to reopen? 

Ms.P: We are working towards a safe and secure opening of our campus. Our faculty and staff have already had a "COVID-19 Risk" training. We are planning to make our campus as virus-free as possible. Hand-washing stations will be installed as well as a temperature screening area, separate entry and exit pathways are being defined, air-sanitizing equipment has been purchased. Measures are being taken to provide physical distancing indoors. We are fortunate to have plenty of outdoor classroom spaces where learning will take place at safe distances and in fresh air.  


II: Lastly, looking forward to September, what can we expect from Castelli for the next academic year? 

Ms.P: It is difficult to imagine what exactly the situation will be by September, but we are planning for numerous possibilities. The safety of the children, their families, our faculty and staff is the number one priority. Hopefully, everything will return to normal and we can resume with a fully, interactive programme. We are really excited about it because we feel that with all the skills that pupils and teachers have developed during this period, there is huge potential for lessons to be even more dynamic than before.

  It will also be incredibly exciting for the children to be able to fully engage with sport, music, and drama, which are so central to our school life, in the best way possible: in person. Most of all though, we have talked a lot about appreciation in our assemblies.

  I think it will be a year where we will spend a lot of time appreciating the simple things that we may have taken for granted in the past.