Volume 16 Number 3
School for Buccaneers
01 June 2003
The atmosphere at the Portofranco centre in Milan is ideal for young people who don't feel comfortable at school. Opened in November 2000, it provides help with homework and a quiet place to study, consult books or use computers.
The atmosphere at the Portofranco centre in Milan is ideal for young people who don't feel comfortable at school. Opened in November 2000, it provides help with homework and a quiet place to study, consult books or use computers. No payment, no marks, no duty to stick to the schedule; all students have to do is enroll and abide by normal rules of behaviour.
Portofranco is manned by volunteers: 40 teachers, who come after school, and some 150 university students. The secretary and the cleaning ladies are also volunteers. They operate in a disused school building in the heart of the city. Some 40 students attend each day.
The centre's name can be translated as 'free port', and it does remind one of a Caribbean port where buccaneers feel at home. 'We never have problems with discipline,' says the director, Alberto Bonfanti. 'The atmosphere helps them to concentrate. They respect these strange teachers because they can't get over the fact that they work without pay.'
Each student has an interview when he enrolls. 'If we notice he is very weak, we entrust him to a tutor,' says Bonfanti. 'The trick is to spark motivation through a personal relationship. You can't say these boys and girls don't like to learn: they just don't like school.' Last year two thirds of the students assigned to a tutor were successful at school. 'But, above all,' says Bonfanti, 'they changed inside.'
Thirty per cent of the students leave without completing the course: but even they benefit, as these extracts from the diary of one of the teachers, Aldo Baldo, indicate.
'Salvatore has short straight sticking-up hair. He keys in text messages at the rate of 200 letters a minute. He has to take one train and two trams to get here. When he first came I thought he would never come again. Instead he has even learnt to write in an orderly manner.
'Fanny, on the other hand, is a sweet little blonde, full of doubts and fears. She often skips school because she has not done her homework. In the afternoons she is too busy training; she is a champion in synchronised skating. The two commitments are too much. Maybe she should leave school, but how can I tell her, when everybody else tells her to give up skating?...
'What a surprise today! Salvatore has brought a friend along, which shows more than many words that he thinks it is worth coming to Portofranco....
'Fanny is sinking deeper and deeper into her crisis. I have tried getting her to produce a website on ice skating, which she can use as credit for her final exam....
'Today Fanny has decided to give up school. Everybody says she is a fool, but she looks happier....
'This evening we have all got together for a pizza. Fanny has brought her boyfriend along. He is a pizza baker, but has decided to go back to school. Fanny will come this summer to work on Electronics, because she wants to take her finals next year....
'Sadly Salvatore has not passed at school, but he is ready to try again.'
And what about the teacher? Baldo adds, 'Coming to Portofranco has been like going back to the first school where I taught. It was in a very underprivileged area and at the beginning I felt useless. Feeling useless is useful, very educational!'