Back to School in Italy

La fine delle vacanze estive ed il rientro a scuola a settembre rappresentano un appuntamento molto importante per scolari e genitori. Il primo giorno dietro ai banchi significa anche avere tutto l’occorrente per essere preparati a varcare la soglia ed entrare in aula quando suonerà la fatidica prima campanella: il grembiule; lo zaino; l’astuccio completo di colori, matite e righello per i più piccoli; il diario ed il portamerenda. La scuola in Italia prevede una frequenza di sei giorni a settimana e l’inizio dell’anno accademico è scaglionato in base alle Regioni.  

It’s back to school in Bella Italia with school bells ringing (literally) in Serrastretta, my tiny village in the mountains of Calabria. Children in many of our mountain communities will attend classes from 8:00 am until 4:30 p.m., six days a week with Saturday classes ending at 1:00 p.m. Although students are permitted one hour for pranzo (lunch), that still amounts to a great deal of time spent learning the Three R’s. Often criticized for a lack of after-school activities, it appears to me that Italian schools make the grade where academics are concerned.

In her article that appeared in Italy Magazine (2014), Katia Amore writes about Italian schools in “Back to School: 10 Things You Should Know About the Italian School System.” Her informative piece describes the charming grembiule. Italian schools do not require uniforms but “children in kindergarten and primary schools wear a grembiule, a school smock. Boys in asilo (kindergarten) usually wear a blue and white checked grembiule while girls wear a pink or red and white checked one. In elementary schools, the color of the smock is deep blue.”

Dressed with their grembiulini over their street clothes, students spend five years in primary school within an educational curriculum that includes Italian, English, mathematics, natural sciences, history, geography, social studies, physical education, and visual and musical arts. Ms. Amore emphasizes, “There are three main teachers per class, plus an English language teacher who works with children across several classes.”

Catholic religion classes are offered once or twice per week, however Jewish, Muslim and Hindu children (and others) may opt for classes in peace studies or conflict resolution. In addition, in most cities and towns, Jewish children are excused from Saturday classes but many still choose to attend. Since there are only four Jewish day-schools in all of Italy (Rome, Milan, Turin, and Trieste) observing Shabbat is challenging for many Jewish families.

During my years in Italy, I have taught English to elementary and middle school students and I have been routinely pleasantly surprised by the knowledge and comportment of my students. Most knew the name of every state in the U.S. and many could recite the state capitals. But most astounding, each day when I entered the classroom the students stood up and greeted me in unison, “Buona Sera, Professoressa!” As we say in America, “Awesome!”

Rabbi Barbara Aiello is Italy’s first and only female rabbi. She lives and works in the Calabrian village of Serrastretta. Write her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..