Andy Kingman has volunteered for many organizations over the years, including raising money for blood cancer cures, participating in the Avon Three-Day Breast Cancer walk, and serving annually with the Big Sur International Marathon. But as a former teacher and marketing professional, she wanted to do some classroom volunteering to help young people prepare for success in whatever direction they might take. Like so many retirees, Andy wants to continue making a difference. After researching various programs and considering the options, she decided to serve with Global Volunteers in Sicily. Read on; this is Andy’s first-person story.
By Andrea Kingman
This February, I had the honor of teaching conversational English through Global Volunteers’ program at the Liceo Delle Scienze Umane “G. Gentile” Liceo Linguistico in Castelvetrano, Sicily, Italy. This high school focuses on languages (English, Spanish, and Arabic) as well as humanities and the social sciences.
For two weeks, I became part of the community of students, teachers, staff, and parents. This two-week experience is one of my most valued and cherished in many years. My career has been devoted to education, but from the corporate marketing side, and rarely have I had a chance to spend an extended period in any classroom since I left my teaching career many years ago.
So much can be said about a school by the quality of its students. The students of Liceo Della Scienze Umane are, without exception, respectful, polite, caring, kind, and outgoing in a way I didn’t expect from teenagers greeting a new face among their teachers, especially one from another country with a different background.
“This two-week experience is one of my most valued and cherished in many years.”
Each morning I walked into the main gathering center of the school to find students preparing for class, gathering around the snack bar, and I was greeted with a smile and a “Good Morning” from the many whom I had met in class and even some whom I hadn’t met yet. My primary contact, Professore Salvatore Ricca, would meet me in the morning in the school lobby and walk me to my first class. Throughout the two weeks, I had the pleasure of assisting at least eight different instructors in at least twelve to fifteen different classes. Students ranged in age from 14-21; many were from Castelvetrano or surrounding areas, but some were from as far away as London, England, and Tunisia.
My role differed from class to class. For the first few days of the first week, I was accompanied by one of the other Global Volunteers, Becky, from the Global Volunteers organization, who was in Castelvetrano to understand a volunteer’s experience. She and I team-taught as we introduced ourselves and asked each student to provide a brief introduction, or we played a lively vocabulary game or introduced grammar concepts. Becky left at the end of the first week, and I was on my own for the second week. I know the students were sorry to say goodbye to her.
The teachers could not have been more supportive; the teacher and I decided how to approach the day’s lesson at the beginning of each class. Either I would support the curriculum currently being taught, such as in one literature class, the Romantic Age, or we decided to focus on conversation or activities such as “What is on Your Bucket List” or “Taboo,” a vocabulary game where the class divided into two teams and each team had to guess a word based on clues—all given in English. This activity was the most popular with the students as they had a chance to be creative and competitive while laughing and showing excitement. The conversations and activities aligned with the concepts taught in class to provide additional practice.
Another successful activity was a role-playing scenario where groups of two to three students presented a Travel Agent-Customer conversation. I had brought a collection of brochures from Monterey, California, and distributed them to pairs (or groups of three students). One student acted as the travel agent, describing the area and its points of interest, while one or two other students played the role of a customer looking for a nice vacation. This created a dialogue where students used their persuasive and English skills to convince a customer of the beauty and excitement of a different part of the world. Each group presented their conversation to the class.
Another class lesson centered around Global Issues. I had with me a short reader titled Global Issues and read the introduction. We then discussed, as an example, the jeans many were wearing and how parts of the jeans were made in different countries. Perhaps the zipper was made in Taiwan, the cloth was cut in Bangladesh, and the jeans were assembled in China and shipped worldwide for distribution. We discussed how this illustrated the meaning of a global product. Globalization can also signify exchanging cultures and traditions and becoming familiar with a new language. We concluded the lesson by discussing globalization’s benefits and risks, such as the loss of old ways of life within a country or a culture. I delivered this lesson to both beginning and advanced classes, and it resonated with students regardless of their English language abilities.
At the end of the second week, the entire school celebrated Carnivale! There was a feeling of great excitement around the school as students dressed up in costumes and gathered in the courtyard to enjoy traditional Sicilian food and contemporary pop music and had a wonderful time talking, laughing, and dancing. Faculty and students enjoyed the festivities seen throughout Castelvetrano for the next four days.
What I found unique about Liceo Delle Scienze Umane was the range of English-speaking abilities within the same classroom. Some students were very outgoing, while others were shy. For the shy students, all it took was a personal connection to assure them that no one was evaluating their skills—we only wanted their input and participation because they were an essential part of the class. In most cases, students spoke up and rose to the challenge.
“My wish is that volunteering through Global Volunteers will continue for many years, as it is a gift from students to volunteers and from volunteers to students and teachers.”
On the last day of my assignment, Salvatore and several teachers presented a traditional Castelvetrano gift of brown bread and olives. I am now back in the United States in my home in Monterey, California, enjoying these delicious food items while fondly remembering my experience.
I hope that I left a small mark on my life in Castelvetrano at this very fine high school. My wish is that volunteering through Global Volunteers will continue for many years, as it is a gift from students to volunteers and from volunteers to students and teachers. When I took on this project, I was at the beginning of a new chapter in my life. That I could connect and contribute to this school community over 6,500 miles from my home is more than I thought I could take away from this experience. I am grateful.
Thank you to Global Volunteers, Liceo Scienze Umane and its students, Salvatore Ricca and his fellow teachers, and Giovanni Parrino, Team Leader for Global Volunteers, for his excellent leadership throughout this experience.
Global Volunteers thanks Andy for her commitment to making a difference, the joy she shared with students and faculty in Castelvetrano, the friendships she made with Sicilians and other volunteers, and for leaving her mark on the world. Bravo Andy Kingman!