Excerpt

The E-VAI Project, born in 2010 and now in its fifth year (thanks to the funding of the San Zeno Foundation) has set itself the objective of verifying and developing the educational methodologies of social inclusion tested during the eleven years of the Chance project. The project is implemented in a network of 6 middle schools covering the entire territory of the sixth municipality of Naples and 2 professional institutes of the same territory where significant percentages of dispersion with respect to the training obligation are realized. The project provides support to the teacher and to the teaching, to the learning processes, and support to all the people who enter the educational relationship because personal growth is realized with the human being in total and not only with the mind.

Narrative, origins and objectives of the initiative

What kind of project is this? Please give a short description (summary) of it.

The E-vai project aims to prevent educational failure and the drop-out rate in schools, starting from recognizing and appraising all hidden non-formal and informal knowledge acquired in a non-structural way by creating explicit connections with formal knowledge.

The identification of such skills – modest or remarkable - is extremely important as it offers youngsters the possibility to recognize themselves as owners of a patrimony that cannot be taken away from them.

The E-vai project involves the oriental periphery of the city of Naples. Educators and experts take hands with the teachers and work inside and outside the classroom by taking part in curricular activities, planning laboratories that support the individual, the learning, and the teaching. The team periodically meets in group reflection spaces led by a psychologist and a pedagogue. The project started in 2009. Only 4 years later, in 2013, the interventions involved the 3rd grade of 9 junior schools and in 1st and 2nd grades of vocational senior high school for a total of 450 students - of which at least a 100 students were at risk of dropping out -  and about 50 teachers. The activity was structured in educational care, listening and mediation in class, in order to facilitate vertical and horizontal relationships as well as the school-family alliance. Learning laboratories integrated curricular subjects like Enigmatic Mathematics, Mad about Science, Music through History, Journalism, Biologic Agriculture, Carpentry Citizenship. They have also social activities carried out in class (focus and working groups) and territorial activities, as Laboratory of Arts, including Figurative Art and Theater.

All the activities aim at making unspoken knowledge and skills visible, allowing students and teachers to be aware of this. Thereby, this project allows the creation of space and moments dedicated to observe, listen and understand the self and the others, evaluate the self and the world by a new perspective, thus re-activating the pleasure of learning. The presence of educators offers teenagers an adult who sees them and who is available to confront them. The choice of working with educators and “young adults” give teenagers an intermediate role model.

Please tell us why, in general, this project is considered a successful one?

The informal approach grants success in 100% of the cases: youngsters cannot wait for the opportunity to be heard in a different way. This means that the team of the project also works with the teachers, supporting them in acquiring different methods of dealing with these students.

The students are followed very closely and in a special and informal way: educators go to their home and  play football with them, encouraging them to come back to school. The youngsters are also kept in contact with during the summer, so the progress doesn't stagnate. Around 100 youngsters of the group are “specially supervised”, which means that they are usually reported by the schools as youngsters without a sense of limit. These are youngsters with problems of addictions, gambling, betting and therefore they are followed individually - also at summer school camps - because time is the greatest educational resource. However, it can also be the biggest enemy: after the summer, when most of them stay up all night, living wild and free, it takes until November to get into routine again (in terms of getting them out of bed in the morning).

And why would you consider it a grass-roots initiative?

Maestri di Strada (Street Teachers) was founded by two teachers. Initially, they weren’t accepted in the schools, so they worked in the schoolyard, supporting students during the exams.

What challenges needed to be solved in this project?

First of all educational challenges, in order not to lose the youngsters. Then the institutional recognition of the Street Teachers - they are not recognized by the Ministry of Education. Street Teachers decided not to politicize their organization to get recognition. Moreover, the project will work for the recognition of non-formal skills that are acquired by the students in the afternoon workshops and the recognition of informal ones by the school.

Is this initiative based on any particular theoretical framework? Which one?

The initiative isn't based on any theory for inclusion per se, but is developed more on an educational and special psychology framework. They work with multiple vision psychologists who work through weekly supervision, using storytelling and narrative and producing a manual. They are looking for a suitable methodology. Their research groups include psychologists and trainees, collaborating with Università Federico II and Suor Orsola Benincasa from Napoli and Università a Bicocca di Milano, sharing methodologies and practices.

(Appendix) Is your intervention standing on its own or is it a part of a bigger and more holistic approach?

Street Teachers form part of a network of associations working in the area to develop an integrated approach to the problem of early school drop-outs.

Please describe the group(s) intended as beneficiaries of this initiative

Why has this group (have these groups) been chosen?

The target of the project is to reduce the drop-out rates among students. The schools with a high dispersion rate in the east of Naples suggested that the students be involved. Thanks to a co-planning with teachers and some actions in the classroom, Street Masters approached them. Once the students trust the Street Masters, they follow them in territorial laboratories like dance, sports and art. Sometimes they bring friends from other schools, or friends that are not going to school at all. The work with students is build on a mutual choice.

Could you please tell us something about the relative size of the (of each) target group, within the school/university population, region and/or country?

The project has produced a reduction in school drop-outs. In 2017-18 the project was implemented in 14 local schools, involving about 500-600 students, 20 educators, and 8 experts.

Which social characteristics are taken into account and what is the geographical area covered?

The areas involved in this project are afflicted by many problems. The economic situation is very bad due to unemployment, people being underpaid and undeclared work. Housing is not regulated, concrete and fences are everywhere. Together with that, the sense of disorientation of young people is strong: the school institution lost its importance and totally failed to their eyes.

On which level is the project implemented?

The project aims to give the school back its importance, its central role into the process of growing up. In order to do that, Street Teachers offer support to teachers, families and students.

Please describe the political and socio-economic factors that you believe have been important enablers for your initiative

Did the initiative have political support?

The initiative has the support of the Municipality of Naples, in order to counteract the phenomenon of Baby gangs. This support is mostly about the sharing of praxis.

How did it fit with local, regional or national policies?

The project is part of the national strategy on combating educational poverty, even if such policies are written by people who, unfortunately, do not have contact with the streets and knowledge of this reality. It would be useful for the committees who define the policies to involve those who work in the field more closely.

Who are the stakeholders supporting the initiative?

The project has positive formal relations with local and national institutions, as well as the patronage of the Federico II University of Naples.

Are there particular demographic changes present that are influencing the project?

Yes, the national economic crisis but there are no other specific demographics changes that are influencing the project.

What is the institutional strategy and culture of the (educational) organization?

The general strategy is the design of individualized and specific interventions, involving families, volunteers, and the entire local community.

To what extent does the initiative have an influence on institutional policy (or potential influence) of the (educational) organization?

Street Teachers carry out many training sessions throughout Italy to share its research activities. The developed methodology is the subject of continuous exchanges with various universities and schools, including the Minotauro project in Milan. The project is presented on various occasions and conferences.

Sometimes it happens that the project is not properly understood, but it is not easy to make the schools more inclusive and therefore there are some failures from time to time. This is why a lot of work is needed at all levels at schools - from teachers to principals to janitors. For example, no matter how much the street art laboratories do, the operators have to stay up late to clean up and do not to create problems for the school.

(Appendix) Is there public support for your initiative and the issue it addresses?

Public support is offered by the families of the students involved in the program. They are like adverts to the rest of the population about the work of the Street Teachers. Their support consists of helping in the organization during public events, even giving voluntary assistance.

(Appendix) What other factors do you think have been important for the success of this initiative?

The relationship with the media was important and worked well - thanks to an effective press office; in terms of non-formal education, the relationship with mothers was crucial: after a year of work, the mothers offered to help as actual collaborators and contributed a lot to the growth of the association, for example by offering their own car to accompany the staff and the students.

Every day, teachers and students, get support from experts and educators.  Once a week, experts and educators get support too, through internal supervision. During in these meetings they can deal with their doubts, emotions and mixed feelings about their relationship with students and teachers. This weekly meeting is considered crucial for the mental wellness of the Street Teachers.

Please describe the overall initiative design and the methods and tools used to reach the goals

Please describe the specific activities carried out.

The central focus of the activities is represented by the activities in the classroom (co-design with the teachers, active teaching laboratories for inclusion, support activities for the educator).

The project offers the following for school design: up to 180 hours for the expert figure; up to 240 hours for educators; 60 hours of psycho-pedagogical activity; 10 educational visits; materials for laboratories; eventual canteen.

The teachers of the classes involved in the project co-design the intervention using the availability of the experts and others resources offered by Street Teachers initiatives.

Their actual use depends on the design and the accessions. Experts are expected to participate in three disciplinary areas, if the design concerns only two areas, it takes 120 hours.

The project makes the following available for school design several professional figures: experts, educators, observers.

The discipline experts are young teachers who have experienced active teaching young people with little motivation and poor basic skills. Active teaching means a participatory, cooperative, dialogic, slow teaching. They can implement the active modes as

a) having the time to prepare and organize the materials

b) assistance by educators

c) work for small groups

d) developing the discipline in a contextualized way, taking into account particular visual angles that meet the students' request for meaning (for example not just writing but "writing a newspaper", not history but 'history through music' etc.).

Their work can therefore not be a substitute of the class teacher but must be integrative of this because it has the possibility to meet the needs of young people. The teaching units to be created will then be designed with the teacher to make them consistent with the development of its programming.

e) Adopt the slow times of learning: since their main task is to reactivate the learning processes in young people without motivation, taking time is necessarily punctuated by the path of the students.

The laboratory experts bring the skills of an art or a profession. Laboratories of this type can have a great value - both to orientate young people and to explore other forms of intelligence that they carry. It is useless to dwell on the validity of these interventions. Here we note that they can be activated only if the teachers of the different disciplines have identified a path to bring these experiences also within the disciplinary path.

The educators are professionals with degrees in education or psychology, or social educators with enough experience and training courses centered on training with other educators in the situation. The tasks of educators are to:

a) Preside and govern the group-individual dynamics;

b) Preside and mediate the passage between different times, different social spaces and different organizational spaces;

c) Mediation means a cultural and pedagogical operation consisting in finding intermediate spaces between different activities and positions. Intermediate spaces are those of the morning reception, that of the circle time or even that of the individual interview when needed. In some cases, in the presence of conflicts, mediation can also consist of creating space/cooling time;

d) Accompany these steps physically but also and above all, by providing emotional support to young people who find difficulty in each step and let themselves go to agitated renunciations or become aggressive.

e) Thanks to the possibilities of personal listening and systematic dialogue, even outside the school context, they put the fundamental function of containment in place;

f)  Strengthen trust, self-esteem, and relationships; through meta-communicative signals. They make each youngster feel that he "exists" and is unique;

g) They work in such a way as to organize collaboration through work in small groups. Its fundamental characteristic is collaborative work: all the participants must have the awareness of being inserted in a meaningful context, in a company with meaning and not only in a repetitive effort. Metaphorically, let's say that this is the difference between those who only feel a bricklayer and those who feel “builder of cathedrals”.

h)  Finally, educators take care of the relationship with the social context also with external activities and independent from the school.

The observers are young psychologists in training, trainees or volunteers. Observers are employed in group activities (with teachers and/or pupils) in which the production of an observational protocol is useful.  The observer:

a) Participates in building a historical memory with the group (with the various phases it will deal with);

b) Each time they return a narrative of the previous meeting, elaborated by their subjectivity.

c) They guarantee the group's function, recording the thoughts produced by the group as a whole.

d) The observations represent the starting point for each new meeting.

 

How to activate the project

The concrete articulation of the project is entrusted to the 'participated planning' that is carried out at the beginning of the year with the teachers of the classes involved according to the exposed guidelines. The guidelines, together with any other necessary clarification, are adopted by the faculty board.

The teachers of the third classes interested in a possible adhesion participate in 6 hours of executive planning together with the operators of Street Masters. At the end of these six hours they formalize - if confirmed - their membership by signing the project and the relative collaboration agreement.

In the classes that have adopted the project, together with the teachers and according to procedures established during the design phase, a minimum of 6 hours are reserved to meet the students and to identify their educational needs and the personal resources they are willing to activate.

Finally, meetings of "conversation with the parents" of the students of the classes included in the project are scheduled. The purpose of these meetings is to present the project in detail, the figures of educators and experts, but also to create a welcoming space for parenting, in which parents can make their voices heard by carrying their own questions. and perplexities, in order to create the conditions for an educational alliance. These activities (with teachers, pupils and parents) will be particularly intensive during the activation phase of the project and will continue throughout the school year on a set time basis. Once the participatory planning phase has been extended also to the students and the families, the real activities begin.

What were the key roles (teacher, student, management team etc.) within the project?

The key roles within the project are the peer educator and psychologists at school in the co-design group.

What ideas, tools, theories, models, methodology (etc.) have been used to reach the goals?

To reach these goals, together with all the co-designs of the intervention, art plays a key role in the project. It is used as a tool to discover informal skills and translate them into real/formal learning. Art Classes are not traditional: the core of the workshop is not the beauty intended as a product of the human hand but the beauty intended as a truly hidden treasure. It means that art is made to reach that treasure and learn how to use it in real life.

What are the final revenues of the project?

The project is financially supported by two Italian private foundations. Small parts of the projects are financed by public funds thanks to European or national grants.

Please describe if your project ensured its sustainability

If so, how did you ensure the short-term impact of the project?

The project is sustained by participating in public call and private funding: Tezenis- Fondazione Zeno and ProSolidar Foundation are stable donors.

And how did you ensure the long-term impact of the project?

Street Teachers developed many different actions for getting resources: fundraising initiatives, publishing books written together with students, organizing events for collecting money, facebook crowdfunding, banquets with materials for sale, and theatrical performances. In addition, the national Bellini theater in Naples supports the project buying tickets for two years of the show organized in collaboration with Paolo Grassi School Theater by the Street Teachers project.

Has your project been replicated elsewhere?

The project has been replicated in some schools in Italy, which have developed methodologies based on the Street Teachers model. Surely every project must be adapted and shaped in the territory of reference. The problems are the same in all the suburbs: an approach based on listening and co-planning are needed. Street Teachers was merely the first example.

Please tell us about the resources used in this initiative

What was the budget for the initiative?

The annual turnover of the Street Masters is 400,000 Euro. Every single cent is spent on the association: nothing is shelved.

How much did the initiative depend on volunteers?

Volunteering is not contemplated by Street Teachers - every collaborator is given formal and economic recognition. Mothers of students collaborate with the project for free as a form of gratitude. Everyone, even the experts and the trainees, get recognition. Everyone's contribution has a value that must be recognized.

How were the costs perceived by the public/the sector/other stakeholders?

The costs are not perceived, above all, this leads to some frustration.

To what extent did the initiative achieve its objectives?

Please describe the evidence to support the success of your initiative.

The intervention is monitored with daily reports and collective weekly reports that are collected in a database, which is reused for researches.

The evaluation is to be working on anger and transforming it into something different. The goal is that the school drop-outs are alert in class, completely awake and listening to you.

Did the intervention lead to any unintended (positive) outcomes?

Street Teachers has a good result collecting money from the 5x100 donations; they are surprised by all the recognition they got from abroad, formally and informally, as well as the single artists and persons working in the project.

What indicators (quantitative and qualitative) have you measured to demonstrate success?

At the end of the school year, there are a lot of positive results. The drop-out rate, for example, on a percental of 60, is generally reduced by 30%. On a sample of three classes (75 students with at least 40 drop-out students, NEETS supposed to attend the school, students with special education needs and so on), more than the half of the runaways decided to go back to school or to be involved in different educational programs or trainee-ships. With regard to enrollments, many students chose to go on with their studies after secondary school (around 70%). Repeaters are cut (20-30%) thanks to afternoon workshops where educators and experts help the students to study and report to teachers. School life expectancy increase: at the end of the school year, thanks to co-design with teachers, most of the students (80%) say that school is definitely a positive and significant experience that gave them something that can be used in their future, in real life.

(Appendix) How did you evaluate/monitor this intervention?

Street Teachers asked rating educational agencies to evaluate the work. Apart from that, the foundations that sustain the work of Street Teachers also monitor the intervention thanks to experts of education and development. There's also an internal evaluation of the work that is done by a team of psychologists that compile tests for students, families, and teachers and prepares a report containing qualitative and quantitative data together with a narrative part.