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Aviano AB strengthens community relationships through English Teaching Program

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Brooke Moeder
  • 31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

U.S. Air Force Airmen from Aviano Air Base and other members of the Wyvern community volunteered to teach English to Italian children in communities around the base through the Vicini Americani English Teaching Program.

The volunteers taught English to Italian children in local middle and high schools, as well as two summer camps. 

The summer camps took place July 4-29 in Polcenigo, Italy, and August 29 through September 9 in Aviano, Italy. Children ranged from 6-14 years old attended the summer camp lessons.

During the summer camps, more than 45 volunteers interacted with the children through different activities and workshops that focused on culture, traditions, and lifestyles. These activities helped improve the children’s English and communicative skills in a way that was designed to be organic and expectation-free.

The children created crafts, played sports, participated in nature walks and more while they were learning. Through informal conversations, children were taught English pronunciation, listening, spelling and speaking skills.

“The summer camp had less of a classroom atmosphere and the kids were more receptive to learning English differently than in a school atmosphere,” said Retired U.S. Army Master Sgt. Leandro Rocha, English Teaching Program volunteer. “Currently we are trying to re-make a music video where the kids have to not only translate the lyrics but the meaning behind the song.”

During the 2021-2022 school year, more than 49 volunteers taught 226 hours of English and some Spanish to 700 high school and middle school students over the course of 61 classes in a local city. The program is scheduled to continue into the 2022-2023 school year with plans to also reach elementary schools.

The volunteers shared information about themselves, their habits, travels, work experiences, expectations and more during their visits to each school.

“I feel extremely grateful to the group of volunteers who came to our schools,” said Nicoletta Caine, a local High School for Tourism and Economy Spanish and English teacher. “The volunteers could choose a simple topic and speak about that or have a conversation with different groups of students in the same class or even play games with them. It has been a really interesting and stimulating experience.”

The students were happy to meet the volunteers and appreciated the activities, according to Caine.

“They [the students] were very eager to be able to speak to native speakers and exchange their views with them and learn about their habits, tastes, interests and job roles,” said Caine. “They surely improved their capability to use the languages [English and Spanish], acquiring more courage and confidence.”

Rocha also volunteered three times in high school classrooms in spring 2022. Rocha explained that the students were interested in why Americans use conjunctions as well the use of different dialects spoken across regions of the states.

“My experience was great,” said Rocha. “They watch shows and wonder why New Yorkers speak differently than those shows with people from Texas. They recognize that Italians have a different dialect based on where someone comes from; but the students are just amazed more by the U.S. way of speaking English. You can tell they want to learn more compared to learning basic Oxford English taught in their schools.”

On Sept. 13, 2022, Daniele Basso, the vice mayor of Aviano, Mario Della Toffola, Polcenigo mayor, and U.S. Air Force Col. Timothy Maxwell, 31st Mission Support Group commander, recognized more than 30 members that volunteered or helped coordinate for the local school visits and the summer camps.

During the ceremony, Della Tofolla reiterated the strong friendships between the communities and emphasized one of Aviano AB’s mission statements: we are stronger together.

“I see different ranks in this room but we are all the same rank when it comes to volunteering,” said Maxwell.

The Vicini Americani English Teaching Program helps foster strong relationships in the local community and allows Aviano AB to give back to our host nation.

“I think the program is important to both the young students of the local Italian community and the U.S. service member equally,” said Rocha. “It breaks down an invisible wall and it allows the service member to understand that they have a responsibility like that of an ambassador to educate young Italian children.”

Any member part of the Wyvern community can volunteer. Applicants must be at least 16 years old and can volunteer as much or as little as they want. Please email avianoenglishteaching@gmail.com for information on how to volunteer.