After a successful week of Orientation and Training, Sarah and I were sent to Roccafranca for our first week as A.C.L.E. tutors. I was in charge of the class of 9-year olds, a group I picked because of their class name, “Dogs.” (Each class was assigned an animal name, and frankly, I couldn’t think of a more legitimate way to determine which students l I would work best with.) Sarah was in charge of the “Tigers,” ages 12-13. Our experiences differed dramatically.
The 9-year olds have an English vocabulary consisting of approximately 50 words, most of which describe colors, animals and body parts. Have they learned to conjugate verbs? Have they learned any verbs, period? Absolutely not. So, I burned about 700 calories a day energetically pantomiming instructions in order to get my students through advanced activities such as creating paper dolls, describing their favorite foods, and sitting in a circle. At least the children were enthusiastic: of the twelve students, none sat still for over 60 seconds at a time, and none fatigued of trying out various gibberish words. For example, “Takae durka toilet?” was one guess at “Can I use the toilet?” It reminded me of the superheroes in the movie Team America, who attempted to communicate with terrorists through phrases such as “Derhka derhka, Muhammad jihad.”
Meanwhile, at least one of Sarah preteens spoke more fluently. Though the language skills were instrumental in completing activities as advanced as “name that tune,” their English also allowed them to scrawl some less than flattering messages on school property. The camp’s oldest student, who was literally head and shoulders above the other campers at a lanky 6’1″, wrote “Welcome to Hell” on every piece of work he turned in throughout the week.
Note, the Tutors and Helpers formed merely one flank of an A.C.L.E. army. Our brilliant sergeant, regional director Emmiliano Valtulini, organized a unit of 11 junior counsellors, Italian teenagers / A.C.L.E. alumni who aided as translators and babysitters. A.C.L.E.’s rear flank was manned by 10 adult administrators, including local teachers, special-ed assistants, and parents. Even the mayor joined to watch the students’ end-of-week show.
Not surprisingly, this week’s A.C.L.E. army was victorious amongst its 50 student challengers. Together we increased the children’s English vocabulary and maintained an injury ward that never surpassed 5 children. Everyone is buzzing with energy after a nursery rhyme marathon and a caffeine regime of coffee, espresso and macchiatos. And team Jet Set Zero is even crossing items off of our own bucket list.
I am posting from Venice now. More to come shortly on this weekend’s shenanigans.