How a “Little Italian School” flourished into a big dream
Perth-based mother of three Tania Pietracatella has been enamoured with Italy and the Italian language ever since she first visited the Bel Paese on a family holiday when she was 12 years old.
So, the aspiring Italian teacher was devastated like the majority of the Italian community in Western Australia when the state government announced in 2014 that it would be cutting funds to their Italian language programs.
“I had always had intentions to go back and teach in primary schools once I’d finished having children”, Pietracatella recalls, “but cutting funds made my return to teaching uncertain”. Determined to keep her beloved Italian culture and “dolce lingua” alive in Perth, Pietracatella took matters into her own hands and established her own Little Italian School from home, where she could share her knowledge, passion and enthusiasm for the Italian language and culture.
Pietracatella recalls being on an annual trip to her father’s hometown of Campobasso, Molise when she heard about the funding cuts and how it “sparked a nerve” within her.
“All I could think of was the hard work my nonni had done to help build this country, and their language and culture no longer had any value. Once my parent’s generation are gone, the language and culture would be too…I was sitting in front of the family farm house in Italy where the old school is, and thought why don’t I just open my own little school?”.
Pietracatella wanted to create a more authentic classroom experience for her students and in 2016 decided to run The Little Italian School from her Southern Italian inspired home. “I based the design of the house we had just built on the farm house in Italy which I fell in love with as a child. It has a semi-detached room we call the ‘tavernetta’ where we entertain, make sausage and other things, or just relax….I didn’t build it with the intentions of running a school from our “tavernetta” but I believe it was fate and all just fell into place, exactly the way it was meant to be…and the beauty is (by teaching from the tavernetta) I’ve been able to make classes more relaxed, rather than teach in a sterile classroom with over 20 students. I limit the numbers to 10 per class. I like to think it’s really close to what it used to be like once upon a time”.
Despite not having completed her university studies, Pietracatella firmly believed she had the passion, skills and motivation needed to open her school. “I was definitely not nervous about jumping straight into it. I fell pregnant with my third child three quarters into doing my Bachelor of Arts and once she was born I had never gone back. I had completed my Italian Teaching Methodology course at Notre Dame University with high distinction in all units, and had so much experience in teaching Italian already that I didn’t feel the need to return to finish my degree, just to receive a piece of paper... Completing your degree doesn’t make you a good teacher. I believe my past years spent living in Italy along with attending university in Perugia, amongst many years of Italian language studies is a huge advantage for me. And the fact that I return each year is the ultimate professional development as I have watched Italy’s language and culture evolve over the years and I am able to teach first hand”.
And almost two years on it Pietracatella’s vision has paid off. The authentic, relaxed, teaching style has seen the Italian teacher inundated with enrolments. Pietracatella now teaches six classes a week and runs tween classes, adult beginners and adult intermediate classes and also offers verb drilling classes and the more relaxed “conversazione e caffe’ as well as private tutoring.
“We learn organically, so there is no pressure and no tests or exams”. The Little Italian School has also branched out into monthly cooking workshops where Pietracatella calls on passionate Italo-Australians to share their culinary skills and passion for Italian cuisine. “I sometimes get older generation Italians to share their many years of experience, or younger generation Italians that just love to cook.”
The popularity of the cooking workshops has the Italian teacher now planning cultural workshops in the near future and a possible cultural immersion trip to Italy. “I just returned from Italy where I met with a friend of ours who owns an “agriturismo” where I am planning on taking groups of up to 10 people on a full language and culture immersion farm stay in the raw and untouched Molise region of Italy. One of the activities includes watching how mozzarella di bufala is made”.
While many Italians in Western Australia feared that the presence of their “dolce lingua” and beloved cultural traditions was coming to an end after the governments funding cuts, the success of Pietracatella’s Little Italian School indicates that Western Australians love affair with the Bel Paese is as strong as ever. And Tania Pietracatella agrees, “A lot of my students are of Italian heritage and want to reconnect with their roots. I almost feel it’s my duty to keep this wonderful language and culture alive in the next generation. It’s like I owe it to my parents and nonni that worked so hard for us. I also have students who have no connection at all with the culture but love it and are therefore interested in all things Italian…and I’m determined to keep the language and culture alive in the new generation”.
To enroll into The Little Italian School visit www.thelittleitalianschool.com.au
Image Caption: Tania Pietracatella at her Little Italian School with children Valentina, Flavia and Alessio