Sister cities exchange insight on teaching during a pandemic

Teachers in Madison virtually met with those in Mantova, Italy to discuss COVID-19′s influence on the classroom.
Published: Jan. 23, 2021 at 4:53 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - In a pandemic that knows no country borders, teachers everywhere are faced with a similar task: helping students feel connected.

That was the concern among educators in Madison and Mantova, Italy during a virtual call on Saturday.

A must-do for teachers, according to Marianna Pavesi, a high school principal in Mantova, is to “stay as close as we can to our students. [There is] a need to feel our closeness as a big family.”

The bridge was formed by the Madison-Mantova Sister City Program, a friendship formalized by a resolution in 2001. According to the Italian Workmen’s Club of Madison, which helps keeps the ties strong, an Italian diplomat met with former Governor Tommy Thompson in early 2000, noting the geographic similarities between the two cities. Months later, in another visit, the diplomat and members of an agricultural committee found more similarities in their dairy-driven economies.

Over the years, representatives from Madison and Mantova have visited each others’ cities. Mantova is located in Northern Italy with a population of about 50 thousand.

Italy was among the first countries to be hit by the coronavirus. In March, a nationwide lockdown forced everyone to go virtual. Mantova teachers explained, since the fall, different grade levels have gone back and forth between virtual and in-person learning.

As a result of the distance, Tania Haynes, a freelance English teacher in Mantova, said her students expressed concerns like, ‘‘I have no friends. I’m so alone. I need help.’”

Heidi Hyland, a health and physical education teacher at La Follette High School, told her Italian counterparts that her school conducts a “virtual mentors” program. Every adult in the school, she explained, is responsible for checking in with a small cohort of students a couple times a week.

Tim Gatti, a fourth grade teacher at the Madison Metropolitan School District, suggested, “putting on filters where you do things like this,” he said, demonstrating a Smurfs effect on Zoom. “It gets the kids laughing and engaged.”

Besides working to improve classrooms, representatives from the sister cities said they have also hosted meetings with local business managers, performed in other countries, held cooking classes and more.

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