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Teacher exchange between Italy and Vermont launches

 



What do Italy and Vermont have in common? One answer: shared values surrounding the importance of local food production and food education. To bolster these values and build a shared culture of sustainability, the Vermont Italian Cultural Association (VICA) has led a collaborative project partnering with Shelburne Farms Institute for Sustainable Schools, and the Consulate General of Italy in Boston, to create an exchange program centered around food systems education and farm to school professional learning.


Four teachers from Montpelier High School have traveled to Colico, Italy this week to be hosted by the Istituto d'Istruzione Superiore "Marco Polo", a secondary school that prioritizes practical learning and teaches relevant skills to tackle the most pressing needs of today’s world. Among several course focuses including Mechatronics, Tourism, and Telecommunications, is an Agriculture/Agribusiness track. The school is well poised to host the Vermonters due to its progressive approach to learning as well as its location in one of the most agriculturally rich areas of the country. The director of the school, Catia Baroncini, has been paramount in bringing this program to life and says of the exchange, “L'IIS Marco Polo è lieto di accogliere gli amici del Vermont. Ci attende una settimana ricca e stimolante, alla scoperta della filiera del latte.” [L’IIS Marco Polo is pleased to welcome our friends from Vermont. We are looking forward to a rich and exciting week exploring the dairy supply chain].



In addition to visiting the school and learning about their innovative food education programming, the teachers will visit various local producers and community partners that support food education. These local excursions touch on a few of the key industries in the region including dairy, grains, and hospitality, and give the cohort a sense of the agricultural history of Colico’s past alongside a backstage pass into the agricultural operations of today. 


Their visit includes a tour along the so-called “Mill path”, a collection of mills dating back 800 years that eventually closed their doors just 60 years ago, a day in Valsassina, the local "cheese valley" south of Colico, and Latteria di Villatico di Colico to witness the processing of goat and cow milk. The trip concludes with an expo bringing together local government officials, various local producers, and school presentations.



“Educators look to each other to learn. We need to also learn outside of our own borders to address our biggest challenges, like, how are we going to feed a growing population sustainably?” says Shelburne Farms Institute for Sustainable Schools Director of Professional Learning Jen Cirillo. Cirillo is also a member of VICA and a co-organizer of the exchange program along with VICA member Emma Boutcher. Shelburne Farms has a long history of exchanges with organizations around the globe related to food and food systems education, including groups in Italy. “The opportunity for educators to see sustainability solutions play out in other parts of the world is really important—in this case, to look at something we share: how we feed our children,” says Megan Camp, vice president of Shelburne Farms.

 

The four educators attending the exchange—Sam Bromley, Colleen Purcell, Brigitte Savard, and Tom Sabo—are teachers at Montpelier High School and active members in the Vermont farm to school community. Farm to school supports youth in connecting the dots of where their food comes from and how their food choices impact their bodies, the environment, and their communities at large. “We’re proud that all four educators are part of Montpelier’s Farm to School Institute team,” says Cirillo. The Northeast Farm to School Institute, facilitated by NOFA-VT and Shelburne Farms Institute for Sustainable Schools, is a year-long professional learning opportunity that supports teams around the region in making lasting whole-school change. “Food systems education is woven throughout Montpelier’s curriculum and integral to its school culture. This exchange is an opportunity to deepen that curriculum with an understanding of how other places are doing food systems education,” says Cirillo.

 

Bromley is also the recipient of a prestigious 2022 Rowland Fellowship. Through this fellowship, Bromley, a science teacher, is focused on infusing food systems and the culinary arts across the curriculum and increasing student engagement through food. Fellowship funds will support educators’ travel to Italy for this transformational learning experience. “We, at Montpelier High School, are excited to learn from farm to school educators around the world. The region we are visiting in Northern Italy has a lot of similarities to Vermont and we are excited to learn more about how farm to school education is embedded into their culture and curriculum.”




VICA, in partnership with the Consulate General of Italy in Boston, conceived of the program as an opportunity to exchange knowledge and expertise based on shared values. Vermont is under the jurisdiction of the Boston Consulate and works collaboratively to develop programs promoting Italian culture in the state. Founded 40 years ago, VICA’s mission - to promote and preserve Italian culture in Vermont - is rooted in the state’s rich Italian heritage, having welcomed Italian immigrants arriving in 1880 as stonecutters and marble carvers to the towns of Barre and Proctor, respectively. The city of Burlington itself had its own Little Italy, where Italian immigrants opened businesses, raised families, and prospered.  


Fulfilling its mission, according to VICA president Lisa DeNatale, is only possible when the ties to Italy are strengthened. “Vermont’s connection with Italy is felt deeply. Many of our members including retired Senator Patrick Leahy still have family in Italy.” “My grandparents came to Vermont from Northern Italy and my grandfather and his brother were stone carvers with their stone carving business in Vermont '' says Leahy. Marcelle and I have often walked the streets in Italy where they walked as we visited relatives. The relationship with Italy is a valued one”


Reflecting on the program DeNatale notes “Respect for the land and its bounties and riches are inherent values that connect us. We see it practiced by Vermont’s Italian producers who honor the animals, land, and traditions of their native Italy. Vermont is fortunate to have a community that, like Italy, emphasizes local production, quality, and education around sustainable food systems. The exchange is an opportunity to share what each region does best through educating students and connecting them to the sources of their food.”  



“Per noi del Consolato Generale, in particolare del nostro Ufficio Scolastico, è una grande soddisfazione aver contribuito a rendere possibile una collaborazione tra due comunità educative e produttive così distanti geograficamente, ma così vicine nei valori d’ispirazione. Il ponte che siamo riusciti a costruire rappresenta un’opportunità straordinaria di valorizzazione del territorio, di promozione della filiera produttiva a chilometro zero, di sensibilizzazione ai temi della sostenibilità ambientale e alle qualità della cultura agroalimentare locale, nonché un’occasione unica di esperienza educativa e culturale” Arnaldo Minuti, Consul General of Italy in Boston





[For us at the Consulate General, particularly within our School Office, it is of great satisfaction to have contributed to realizing this collaboration between two educational and productive communities, so geographically distant but so close in their inspirational values. The bridge that we have managed to build represents an extraordinary opportunity to promote this region, to promote 0km products, to raise awareness for environmental sustainability, and for the quality of the local agriculture, as well as a unique educational and cultural experience!] Arnaldo Minuti, Consul General of Italy in Boston


The partnership between the Consulate General of Italy in Boston, the Vermont Italian Cultural Association and Shelburne Farms Institute for Sustainable Schools, hopes to continue the program by welcoming educators from Italy to Vermont in 2025.  “We are also excited to potentially host teachers from Italy in years to come”, states Bromley. “The prospect of learning from each other is what really excites us about this opportunity. We look forward to learning together.”


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