This is the story of a school. A school that’s going in one direction only, just like its name; UP. A story set on the island of Sardinia, in the city of Cagliari. A story of pupils, from nursery school age through to middle school, who spend their day at one of the three school sites around the city. Each site with a building and grounds more elegant and greener than the last. Where the day starts with thirty minutes of yoga. A school that grows its own vegetables. Which, when possible, get onto the plates of its school dinners.

A school whose motto is ‘Designed in Italy. Inspired by the world.’

And whose reputation of combining the latest in teaching technology with traditional values is taking Cagliari by storm.

The ethos of equilibrium

So, when does our story start? In 2015, to be exact. That was the year that UP School’s founder, Enrica Corbia, started the school she had been dreaming of setting up for over twenty years. Having been working with children in the education sector, her dream was to create a school that not only taught core subjects but also a way of life. Values that would stand its pupils in good stead for their futures.

The basis of UP’s ethos is equilibrium. The balance between;

  • the body and mind
  • the cognitive and emotional
  • knowledge and skills
  • tradition and innovation
  • homeland and the world.

The school’s aim to help each pupil;

  • become a complete person
  • understand the importance of wellbeing, fitness and diet
  • think for himself/herself
  • be responsible and trustworthy
  • share and learn together
  • see how knowledge and know-how make the difference to the ecosystem.
  • dare to dream.

It is a dream that has caught the imagination of parents in Cagliari as demand for places at UP steadily rises. All willing to pay over €500 a month to send their child there. By the way, UP school hopes and believes that a school such as theirs should be subsidized by the government as in countries such as Sweden.  Eventually what they are teaching should be free for parents.

The environment of learning

There are three UP schools in Cagliari. Each one teaches pupils either at pre-nursery school age, nursery school age, or primary school age. Let’s take the site in Viale Trento, in the city centre, where the primary school kids go. The school building is a 1920s villa, surrounded by trees, grass and plants. As with the other school sites, Enrica asked a team of young architects to make sure the external beauty was matched by modern, innovative, airy classrooms and specially designed spaces in which to learn. Latest state-of-the-art digital teaching technology such as smart boards followed. It makes for an exciting and elegant environment for learning.

Teaching and learning English at Up

To find out more about UP, I spoke with one of its English teachers, Kate Jenkins. I’ve known and been friends with her since the mid-90s. I had an idea what she does at the school in Viale Trento but I wanted to quiz her a bit more.

Kate’s been at UP since its opening in 2015.

She says, “When I took the job, it was a great challenge because teaching kids is a whole new ball game compared to teaching adults.

It’s not just about English, it’s about caring for the pupils and understanding what they need. You’ve got to build up their attention span, so lessons have to be varied, fast-moving and always geared to keeping their interest.”

In 2015, she took on the first intake of pupils for Year 1 and Year 2 of the primary school. Ages five, six and seven. Now, she’s just completed Year 4 and Year 5 with them and seen the progress they’ve made first-hand. “You really get attached to them. It’s hard work teaching but when you’re teaching this age group it’s very fulfilling.”

I ask her to give me an idea of the teaching materials she uses in class.

“Well, I’ve been using ‘Kids Box’ books published by Cambridge. I like this series because it contains a lot of activities and songs. The kids like that, too. The series also prepares them for the Cambridge exams they take. This year for Year 4, we used Kids Box (levels 5 and 6) and the class took the ‘Flyers’ exam*. The kids in Year 5 have just taken the Cambridge KET exam and we used ‘Complete KET*’ as the book. We’re waiting for the exam results to come through from Cambridge. “

She adds, joking;” But I’m quietly confident, as football managers say”

*School children can take internationally renowned University of Cambridge exams that get gradually more difficult. The names are ‘Starters’, ‘Movers’ and ‘Flyers’. Then KET which stands for Key English Test.

At UP, the school states that 60% of all lessons, whatever the subject, are done in English. Kate backs me up on that.

Teaching subjects in English is being a CLIL teacher rather than simply a TEFL teacher. CLIL stands for ‘Content and Language Integrated Learning’ and means teaching a subject in a foreign language to pupils. An English CLIL teacher will, therefore, teach pupils a subject in English rather than in the pupils’ own language. TEFL is literally teaching the English language (grammar etc) to pupils.  

English lessons and technology

I move on and ask Kate about her lessons.

She says; “I really enjoy teaching at UP because I’m fairly free to decide the syllabus myself. Based on what other teachers are doing with their subjects. For example, this last academic year, I added History for Year 4 and Geography for Year 5. Next year, I’ll be introducing literature, so very exciting .”

An example of any lessons?

“Sure. When we were studying the Egyptian culture, we made a 3D model of Ancient Egypt in papier-mâché. That was great, creative fun for the kids who really enjoyed working together on it. Visually very impressive.”

“Or with geography, we did biomes. The kids had studied them in Year 3 and 4 in Italian with their Geography teacher. I got the kids to brainstorm what they already knew about them. I gave them my input which they took notes on. Then I got them to do more research on their computers in class. By the end of the week, the class were doing PowerPoint presentations on the biome they’d chosen to focus on. In their small groups, you know.”

“Oh yes, I know.” I nod. And then add “What are biomes?”

If any one of you reading this is as ignorant of geography as me biomes are different types of environment found around the world which share the same characteristics. So, for example, you get a desert biome, and grassland biome etc.

That cleared up, I echo; “Presentations? With PowerPoint?”

Kate looks at me as if I’m mad for the second time in two seconds and says; “Of course. The kids know it like the back of their hand.”

Silly me. That’s what being up on technology means in practice for UP school.

The trip to London

I know that Kate has just come back from a week in London with some of her Year 5 pupils.

“Yes, the kids had been begging me since Year 3 to take them to London. But they were a bit too young. Never been away from their parents. Well, anyway, this year, me and the parents decided the time was right. Parents paid for the trip. A few came too. It was great fun. Though it rained all week! I told the kids it was all part and parcel of the British spirit, as they trudged around in their anoraks like wombles!”

“We went to the British Museum. They loved that as it reinforced what they’d learned about Romans and Egyptians in my classes. We went to the Natural History Museum too and saw the dinosaurs. We also went to the Science Museum which was great because the science teacher had done lessons on electricity and matter. The kids really enjoyed seeing these things ‘in the flesh’ so to speak and literally threw themselves into the interactive Equinox Gallery.”

She adds; “And you know, one of the pupils took his mum shopping. She doesn’t speak English. But her son helped her buy some stuff. That’s what being able to speak English is about!”

Any funny stories?

“Well, it’s not that funny but the kids loved repeating ‘Please do not obstruct the doors’ – the automatic voice message in the hotel’s lifts. At any time, wherever we were. And ‘Mind the gap’ of course. The classic!”

“Talking of funny, the funny thing was that one of the great highlights of the trip was seeing the squirrels in St James’s Park. The kids were mesmerised and didn’t want to leave!”

“It doesn’t take much to please them!”, she jokes.

I’d say the kids at UP know a good thing when they see it. And know how lucky they are to be at such a fun, forward-thinking school.

New Kids on the Blog

UP school has had its blog for the pupils since October 2016. newkidsontheblogweb.wordpress.com

First thing to say is what a great title for a blog (from a copywriting point of view). Got all the key words in there and it sums up what the blog will be about. It’s got humour too.

The blog has a lot going for it;

  • Plenty of frequent, up-to-date posts
  • Pupils producing the posts
  • Posts in Italian or English
  • Varied posts reflecting the school’s ethos, values and activities.
  • Loads of photos

What strikes me about the blog is how important the environment, nature and green issues are to the children at UP. This, of course, fits in with the school’s ethos. For example, class 3 has its club where they meet in a corner of the school’s garden. The post (in Italian) says pupils in Class 3 Club make orange cake or orange fruit salad from the orange tree there. And, importantly, take seeds from the oranges to plant.

Or, another of the green posts highlights the Swedish teenager, Greta Thunberg’s fight against global warming. The post ends with ‘Save the Planet!’ and ‘Help the Planet!’

This post like many are in English. Kate says the kids write them themselves. With mistakes corrected if necessary. There’s humour too. For example, one post sees the kids imagining what the names of the plants are in the school grounds. It’s not important what their real botanical names are but more important to be creative and make up the plant’s names. Like for example, a squishy medlar (the shrub whose fruit has the same name).

The blog touches on all sorts of subject matter. There are posts on games for technology, poems written by the kids, articles on the Bermuda Triangle, the history of comics, football, dogs and cats, and physical exercise. There are more ‘obscure’ topics such as ‘Epirus – a forgotten civilisation.’ Or more serious topics such as on Holocaust Memorial Day.

Creativity, respect and honesty leap out from the posts. I was particularly impressed with the ‘moral dilemmas’ post coming from philosophy teacher Joe’s class. The post explains that a moral dilemma is when there are two possible answers but neither one is necessarily right or wrong. A series of ‘Would you rather….? questions follow like ‘Would you rather save 100 old men or one little baby?’ Result; sixteen pupils said one little baby, and three said 100 old men. Another question is ‘Would you rather do an important but boring lesson or do a fun but superficial lesson?” The whole class voted for the important lesson!

I’d say they probably think the important lesson won’t be that boring anyway or, if it is, fun will be just around the corner!

Check out UP’s Facebook page, too. Another example of how social media is being used well.

Last word goes to Kate

In talking to Kate, she emphasises how Teachers at UP school continually draw on their own passions and personal experience which they then reinvest in the classroom.

“Last year I went to Australia and got precious material for workshops on rainforests and reefs. This year I’m heading off to do voluntary work in Madagascar. I hope to document my experience so we can do some conservation projects when I get back. It’s all about inspiring the children and broadening their minds.”

And if she had to sum up UP’s teaching philosophy in a nutshell?

“Our job is to give our pupils the tools to grow up with the best possible chances in a difficult world. It’s not about telling them what to think but teaching them to think for themselves”.

Hear! Hear!

Before today, I knew UP school was doing well in Cagliari. Now, I know why.

Hope you’ve enjoyed finding out about UP school, especially if you teach kids yourselves.

School site https://upschool.it

School blog https://newkidsontheblogweb.wordpress.com/

Published by John Di Girolamo

I have been teaching English as a foreign language since 1992. I started the Diploma in Copwriting with the College of Media in Publishing in September 2018 and passed it with merit in October 2019. My aim is to get into copywriting and add that string to my bow of work experience.

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