A University of Georgia College of Education faculty member was recently honored by the Office of International Education for her work establishing a study-abroad program in Italy.
Beth Tolley, a clinical associate professor in the Department of Educational Theory and Practice, received the Study Abroad Award on April 8 as part of a larger ceremony honoring several study-abroad pioneers. Tolley organized the maymester program in Modena, Italy, six years ago after a previous College of Education program to Italy dissolved.
The result today is a thriving study abroad experience that takes around 15 students each year to work in preschools, elementary and middle schools in the northern Italian city. Students get experience working in a different culture and directly assisting in classrooms, and also get exposure to the famed Reggio Emilia approach to teaching preschoolers.
Similar to Montessori-style learning—also of Italian origin—Reggio Emilia is a child-guided approach that allows children to lead the decision-making and classroom discussions. Preschoolers decide upon a theme for the year that also incorporates their community, such as gardens, architecture or art, and lessons are structured around the theme.
Visits to Reggio Emilia preschools take place throughout the program, so even students in elementary and middle schools can experience the goundbreaking learning taking place there. "They can see how these Reggio elements come into the curriculum later on," said Tolley.
While elementary schools are more structured, UGA students who take part in the maymester program can see how the preschool environment shapes the older students' classroom experiences. The students, mainly early childhood and middle grades education majors (although the program is open to all majors), also learn from the teachers, who are constantly asking their students to investigate and explore.
Each UGA student is placed with a host family, and the days are full—students are in classrooms throughout the morning, with a seminar each week giving them a chance to recap what they've learned. Projects throughout the time in Italy also help encapsulate their experience. And, there are also excursions built into the program, some which directly relate to the schools and others that allow students to experience Italian culture.
It ends up being a full maymester, but students leave with a greater understanding of child-guided classrooms, teaching techniques and even some Italian vocabulary. And some students even opt to stay an extra two weeks to work at an English-language camp offered by an Italian company that helps arrange the study abroad program, Victoria Language and Culture. "If you're looking for a program to go and play, this is not it," Tolley said, laughing.
Students who are interested in taking part in the Study Abroad in Italy maymester program must apply by Dec. 1 of the previous year. Visit the webpage for the program for more information.