Tucked away in the heart of Melbourne’s Carlton is a very special and unique place. It’s where many gather to reflect, others flock for support and guidance, and droves go to challenge themselves and enrich their lives with new cultural and linguistic endeavours. I am of course speaking of the Education Department of CO.AS.IT., comprising the Resource Centre and the Museo Italiano.

I spoke with CO.AS.IT.’s CEO Marco Fedi, Manager of the Language, Culture and Heritage Department, Ferdinando Colarossi, and members of the Education Services Team, Maria Brancolino, Rose Patti and Alexander Parise. This, to say the very least, is close-knit group of passionate professionals all dedicated to serving the needs of the Italian community of Melbourne, Victoria and beyond. They are dynamic and enthusiastic, and this is their story.

'We started a journey in 1968 that has allowed CO.AS.IT. Melbourne to grow with the Italian community and in Australian society. Today we are promoting our Carlton headquarters and our activities in general, as part of this history of migration, part of a learning and growing process; a continuous learning process that leads to excellence in education as well as aged care services, which are increasingly intertwined in our model,' says Marco.

The support of teachers, schools and students of the Italian language is what drives the team. The Resource Centre boasts a plethora of books, DVDs, CDs, realia and other valuable materials. The collection is carefully curated to enrich the learning experiences of all Italian language learners and lovers, irrespective of age and experience level. 'For parents who want to immerse their children in the Italian language, subscription to the CO.AS.IT. Resource Centre is the first step for them,' Rose tells me. 'It provides anyone who is interested in the language and culture of Italy a space where they can access information about Italy,' The centre is bright and welcoming, and you simply can’t help but want to delve right in and go exploring amongst the aisles of Italian language treats. The collection is ever evolving, responding to the needs of students and teachers, keeping up with trends and changes in curriculum, as well as the evolution of technology. 'If that’s what the schools are doing, then that’s what we need to provide,' affirms Rose.  

The department produces a number of original materials in-house, which are designed to reflect the needs of the Italian-learning community. Recent editions of ‘Orizzonti’, an educational magazine published three times each year made available to subscribers of the Resource Centre, have explored topics such as wellbeing, emotions and indigenous and global perspectives. These materials, along with meeting personal requests from teachers and schools, purchasing and sourcing materials, sharing information about new ideas and perspectives, are just a fraction of what keeps the team busy on a daily basis.

Moments of the learning and teaching activities

A key role of the department is to facilitate and manage the Language Assistant Program. CO.AS.IT., working with eight affiliate Italian universities, selects 25 language assistants to come to Australia to support the teaching and learning of Italian in Victorian schools after a public selection process. Funded by a grant from the Italian Government, CO.AS.IT. funds, alongside funding support from the Department of Education and Training, the Language Assistant Program is in its 26th year of operation. Ferdinando highlights, 'It’s an integral part of the support and teaching of Italian in Victoria, and is seen as the major contribution.' Though other assistant programs exist in Australia, the CO.AS.IT. program is fairly unique in its way of operation, therefore is unique to Victoria. Alexander tells me, 'Each year CO.AS.IT. receives three times the number of requests from schools seeking assistants, than available assistants.' As such, allotment of assistants to schools is based on a fine-tuned selection system.

The Education Support Team also organises and delivers a number of afterhours Italian language classes, as the centre is an accredited community language school, as well as being the only CELI accredited examination centre in Victoria. Classes are offered from pre-school through to VCE level. The classes are intensive at 3 hours per week, giving the students a chance to work on their language skills during the school term. The topics selected by the CO.AS.IT. teachers immerse children in Italy and its language, as well as the Italian reality here in Melbourne. Maria reminds me that the classes are open to all learners. Most recently the team has been running story time programs for little ones aged 3-5 years, as well as interactive workshops with rotating activities for school-aged children during the school holidays. These new initiatives have been met with exceptional feedback, with many parents and carers also getting involved.  

CO.AS.IT. also offers a range of adult language classes, with approximately 20 running per week taught by qualified and experienced native speaking teachers. Students can enrol in language classes as well as a series of themed cultural programs, such as geography, cinema, modern Italy, as well as special annual activities. Alexander informs me that the vast majority of adult learners are of non-Italian background and there’s a real sense of community in the cohort. 'There’s a strong core of returning students, as many of them stay on and become part of the larger CO.AS.IT. family. They are groups of friends, as many have studied together for over 10 years,' he says.  

The Education Services Team also facilitates the Museo Italiano Education Program. The Museo Italiano, which is open to the public, houses a brilliantly rich collection of artefacts that showcases the story of Italian migration to Australia. On offer are a series of different workshops that students of all ages can enjoy to further explore the collection in a more meaningful way. The programs compliment the permanent exhibition of the Museo Italiano, and can be facilitated in English, Italian or bilingually. They can be self-guided or led by CO.AS.IT. staff, with supplementary materials available to continue to support discussions well after the visit has concluded.  

And, as if its reach couldn’t stretch any further, CO.AS.IT.’s Education Department also collaborates closely with the Victorian Association of Teachers of Italian, the Department of Education and Training, the Italian Institute of Culture, universities and other key stakeholders, ensuring the most effective and thorough support of the community across the board.  

So, should you ever find yourself searching for resources, ideas, inspiration, or a place to start or continue your linguistic journey, then CO.AS.IT.’s the place for you. Chances are that if your children are learning Italian, their teachers are drawing on materials, ideas and experiences gained from the Resource Centre and Education Services Team of CO.AS.IT.

If you’re in Carlton pop in and say “Ciao!” – they’d love to see you all.