“Promote the Culture of Encounter,” one of the arguments that is dearest to Pope Francis, could well be the perfect motto of Rome’s Saint Dominic Institute (SDI), a school founded in the early 60s by the Sisters of the Roman Congregation of Saint Dominic, in the north of the city, attended by some 300 pupils from over 30 countries.
Cultural openness is in fact one of the fundamental principles of the SDI, which is also expressed in the wide program of languages taught, in addition to French — the main language — among which are Italian, English, Arabic, Spanish, and German, not to forget the classical languages, Latin and Greek.
The students also enjoy a wide choice of sports and cultural activities, after studies, such as a choir, an orchestra and a theater group. A further benefit of the structure is the large park, which not only makes possible many open-air activities but also invites to simple rest.
There are many foreign schools in Rome; there is a wide choice. Why choose the teaching of a French Catholic school? Why choose the SDI?
Mr Bonnet, the new Director of the Institute, answers: First of all, among all these diverse choices, there are only two institutions recognized by the French State. Therefore, expatriate families, whether they are French or simply French-speaking, can thus keep their children in the official French system, because we are partners of the AEFE (Agency of French Schools Abroad) network.
Italian families regard our schools as a place where one finds and exchanges French excellence. In so far as Saint Dominic is concerned, its long presence in the neighbourhood (of almost 60 years), united to the specificity of Dominican pedagogy, enables it to offer an education open to local and international realities.
Our students obtain diplomas (with constant success) with the title of French (Baccalaureate) and Italian (State Exam)) studies.
We can also mention the English certificate we provide in collaboration with Cambridge University.
What are the most important principles of SDI teachers?
Catherine Velletri, a teacher at the SDI for 30 years and Coordinator of the (Lower Middle) school, explains: The SDI, being a school recognized by the French Ministry of Public Education, imparts the essential teachings in French, respecting the ministerial directives. Our pupils have had very varied schooling. They come from Italian, Malian, Belgian, Algerian <schools> . . . This obliges us to personalize our teaching and to help youngsters to learn to live together. Our motto is “excellence,” which for us means enabling each one to succeed to the best of his abilities.
French is the main language of the school. How does the SDI promote it?
Catherine Velletri: All the SDI pupils do not have French as their mother tongue. To insert them, we organize FFL (French foreign language) lessons and also exchanges with French schools. The results are very good. This year a girl obtained the diploma — with the maximum of votes –, who began studies at the SDI in the first year <of middle school> without knowing a single word of French.
Every two weeks we propose a “quarter of an hour of reading,” from 9:05 to 9:20 we all stop, adults and youngsters, and each one reads a book of their choice, provided it’s not of school.
Finally, events are organized. In December for Secondary School “The Palms” competition of general culture and orthography; on March 20, French-speaking Day,” thee is a great celebration of the French language, with games, writing and theatre, African dances and music workshops . . . The whole school takes part in this Day, from kindergarten to high school.
A school must also keep in step with the times. Today’s youngsters have grown consulting and using the latest technologies. Does the SDI respond to these needs?
Catherine Velletri: The SDI obviously has science labs, IT classes, two libraries (one for Primary and the other for Secondary School) with computer stations for research. The new technologies are an integral part of the teaching of some subjects, in particular, the scientific. But in addition to these curricular lessons, we offer activities in collaboration with FabLab to teach the youngsters to project, to program and, for example, to print in 3D.
We also sensitize the youngsters to the dangers of the “net,” the daily newspaper teaching them to respect the rules, to verify the sources, etc., with outside contributions, such as that of the Postal Police.
The SDI not only has a polyglot but also an inter-religious setting. It’s a Catholic school open to all Confessions. The inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue is part of daily schooling. Pope Francis has stressed the importance of the “educational alliance between the school and the family, the “solidary complicity” . Does the SDI live these values?
Mr Bonnet: The first thing I wish to recall as a Catholic school Director is that the parents are and must remain the first teachers of their children. We welcome students of Catholic, Protestant, <and> Muslim families and those with no religious orientation. We unite them in the universal values upheld by the Catholic Church: the search for truth, affirmation of faith in God, love of neighbour, common hope in the building of a better world. Every child is precious for us and must feel himself loved.
That’s why our motto for this year is this most beautiful phrase of Don Bosco: “There is no trust without affection, without trust, there is no education.” It’s up to us to apply it daily. This is our first mission.
Catherine Velletri: For us, the dialogue with the families is essential, be it from the institutional point of view, with the Parents Association, or the personal point of view.
The Parents Association collaborates with us in the organization of various events, such as the French-speaking Day, the end of the year party.
The families that choose the SDI, of whatever nationality or religious faith, do so not only because of the quality of the teaching but also because of the values of solidarity, brotherhood and respect that we carry forward. The personal encounter enables us to create an atmosphere of trust for the youngsters, in particular, when there are difficulties of insertion or learning.