A pathway to resilience. Cometa, a place to grow and to become yourself.

copertina-Nardi

In the daily challenge of educational and training activities, the importance to help students, mainly young kids, to develop a personal resilience (zaradność społeczna) is paramount. Cometa Formazione, operating in Como (Italy), is strongly active to create and preserve those conditions to help the kids to recognize and deepen the knowledge of their own attitudes. Based on the concept of “Experiential Learning”, Cometa Formazione and its Oliver Twist school have implemented the “school-enterprise” approach aiming at developing resilience, involving students in creating real products for real customers in school’s workshops: a carpentry, a fashion studio, two coffee shops and a restaurant. The analysis of the method leads to identify five main pillars in the sociological approach for the development of a resilient attitude in students’ life.
(Article by Anita Longo and Paolo Nardi,published in Kotlarska-Michalska, A. and Nosal, P. (2016) Zaradnosc spoleczna. Wspolczesne przejawy i ograniczenia. University Adam Mickiewicz of Poznan)

Introduction

In the daily challenge of educational and training activities, the importance to help students, mainly young kids, to develop a personal resilience (zaradność społeczna) is paramount. As underlined exactly 20 years ago, “education is at the heart of both personal and community development; its mission is to enable each of us, without exception, to develop all our talents to the full and to realize our creative potential, including responsibility for our own lives and achievement of our personal aims” (Delors 1996: 17). To this extent, in the educational activities, Cometa Formazione, operating in Como (Italy) is strongly active to create and preserve those conditions to help the kids to recognize and deepen the knowledge of their own attitudes (Montalbetti 2002).

This challenge is more and more critical if compared with the main goals of the international and European education policies. As an example, in 2014, dropping out is one of the most severe problems of the educational system, recognized at European level. The path towards Europe 2020 targets (dropping out level under 10%) is still far to get: in 2013, in Italy, the rate is 17%. The number of Italian NEETs, in 2014, increased to 22%, from 17% in 2005 (Eurostat 2014), one of the highest rate in the EU. Furthermore, at national and regional level, the gap between the education system and the job market is wider and wider, due to both the decrease of public investment in education and the rapid changes in the economic context where new skills are required (i.e.: ICT, knowledge of the English language).

The Province of Como, in particular, shows a dropping-out rate higher than 30% in 2014. One of the reasons of this level concerns some youth-related issues which affect the attitude of young people to get maturity and responsibility, often due to poverty or lack of family ties. This problems, unfortunately, can have consequences in terms of poor performances at school and, eventually, dropping out. At the same time, in 2014, the unemployment rate in the province of Como was 9%, but more than 25% for young people (15-29 years old). Furthermore, more than 50,000 immigrants now live in the Como area and 14% of males are unemployed, with high risks of low integration for their families and the kids.

Both the presence of youth problems and the youth unemployment rate show the importance to offer new educational and training pathways in line with the cognitive and non-cognitive skills required by companies. Cometa Formazione deals with very complex conditions: more than 9% of students belong to ethnic minorities; more than 30% of students have physical or mental disabilities, learning disabilities or are at risk of dropping out. In this context, by its method of “school-enterprise”, Cometa Formazione aims at offering, jointly:

  • practical education: besides the common school subjects, young people need to learn work competences in order to create a contact between school and the real world and to feel engaged;
  • working integration: young people that drop out school or with learning disabilities have more difficulties in finding a job, without a real experience;
  • personal valorisation: kids with problems in their families or drop outs loose the trust in themselves and believe they are not able to do anything;
  • personal attention: young people between 14 and 25 years old want to feel important, unique, and, even unconsciously, look for someone taking care for them when they need.

The severe global crisis, due to the economic crisis, the globalization of markets and competition, even the refugees crisis suffered mainly in Italy, has shown up, to some extent, its root in terms of cultural and personal crisis: education becomes an essential aspect to generate people responsible and ready to face reality with all its problems.

 

An overview on Cometa Network

Cometa Formazione is one of the 8 organizations of the Cometa Network: all different “delivery channels” are based on a common mission, “hospitality to educate: express your value becoming yourself”. The meaning of this mission, where hospitality is strictly in connection with the educational activity comes from the origin of this very peculiar organization. Cometa was originated in 1986 in Como when two families practicing fostering started to help each other in children care and to share their experiences and resources. Since then, Cometa developed as a story of attention to the reality and readiness to find a solution to children and community needs.

After a positive experience of fostering by the two founders’ families in Como, and after the involvement of more families interested in fostering, Associazione Cometa was founded in 2000 as a network of foster-parents families, and has now developed into a broad organisation offering sustain and an encompassive range of social, health and education services to both children, their natural families and foster families. Since 2003 it has developed a wide range of services in collaboration with public social services to offer support, education and training to children and young people aged between 0 and 25, to their families and to their foster families. Courses are provided to potential foster parents to prepare them for the experience and challenges ahead.

Few years later, Cooperativa Il Manto was created to manage a day centre for children in foster care where they can do their homework as well as cultural activities after school (including sport, in the Associazione Sportiva Cometa): 139 students (39 of them are immigrants) attended the Centre in 2014. The Centre is instrumental in reducing school drop-outs, and improving children’s educational attainments: 94% of children attending the centre successfully complete education. Services have been set up for children and young people with learning disabilities, where a multi-disciplinary team including healthcare professionals, communication specialists and speech therapists offer personalised help to each child in order to facilitate his/her education path.

Since 2009 the Oliver Twist school, managed by Cometa Formazione, has been providing vocational training courses (on carpentry, fashion and hospitality) for young people of compulsory school age and customised technical training to prepare them to enter the job market as well as professional training courses for unemployed people. Based on the concept of “Experiential Learning”, Cometa Formazione and its Oliver Twist school have implemented the “school-enterprise” approach aiming at youth employability and entrepreneurship, as it develops students’ skills involving them in producing real products for the market. It is a flexible program, where each student, according to the own learning needs, follows a personalized step across several modules which can be attended according to the personal skills to be developed or increased.

Eventually, the International Academy of Tourism and Hospitality (IATH) has been opened, in cooperation with some of the most important international and local hotel chains operating in the Lake Como area: IATH offers professional higher education programs for hospitality management (EQF Level 5), providing also internships and job opportunities to its students.

Cometa Network is now a well integrated social enterprise with seven delivery channels, creating a unique model of welfare services: from cradle to the job market (fig. 1).

Figure 1: Cometa as a model of integrated welfare
Figure 1: Cometa as a model of integrated welfare

 

Developing resilience: the “school-enterprise” VET model

Cometa Formazione, since its origin, deals above all with young people at risk of dropping-out or with different aspects of disabilities, drop‐out students, unemployed young adults (beyond the legal obligation to attend school), young immigrants. The need of an effective training, for these categories, is fundamental; at the same time the research for an excellent education has been the trigger for a method where a real experience of work co-exists with a renewed way to teach classical subjects: the “school-enterprise” model. According to the model, students have to realize real products for real customers: for each specialization, students attend laboratories called «Bottega» (plural Botteghe), which are effective shops. Botteghe include: a carpentry, a fashion studio, two coffee shops and one restaurant, open to real customers. Some data are available in the following table:

Table 1: Enrolled students in 2014-2015

Year 2014-2015
Students from 14 to 18 years old in the vet program 321
Special programs beyond the classic vet 71
Unaccompanied minor foreign nationals – UMFN 15
Adults 50
Total 457
Social categories 38%

 

The school-enterprise method consists of training activities (section a) and career guidance (section b), as described below.

a. Training according the school-enterprise method

School-enterprise is a flexible program, where each student, according to her/his learning needs, follows a personalized step across several modules which can be attended according to their personal skills to be developed or increased. Students, learning by doing with the school-enterprise method, reach not only the minimum level of education and training in order to receive an official qualification (EQF Level 3 and 4), but, following and developing their talents, they can raise up those non-cognitive skills which are essential for the process of personal maturity and responsibility, at the bottom of the spirit of entrepreneurship (Cuhna et al. 2010).

This model involves, into a wide local partnership rooted in the Oliver Twist school, teachers, tutors, local craftsmen, local entrepreneurs in both planning and formation activities. Cometa Formazione has implemented a road map which is yearly reviewed and improved according to the results. The first step concerns the training needs assessment which relates with the socio-economic context of the territory where most of the students can, eventually, be employed according with the competences required by the local industrial sectors: Cometa has a network including more than 500 entrepreneurships. This assessment helps in identifying a Maestro (a Master Craftsman) who will be in charge of training the apprentices in the school-enterprise. The Maestro is selected from local artisans by a recruitment process where the applicants are interviewed on their experience and competences. As much important as the Maestro, the role of tutors is crucial: they will accompany apprentices in their needs, and they will assist the Maestro in his/her guidance to the apprentices. The educational staff (teachers and tutors), in accordance with the Maestro, approves a general training plan, including: the schedule of training (organized into modules), the skills to be developed and the activities to be implemented in order to get the students reach those skills. Activities which can be dangerous or not relevant are clearly identified and prohibited. Besides, for each apprentice, a personal training plan is realized, identifying a personal path towards the achievement of the training general skills.

Apprentices are required to share the training plan. The
 student/apprentice, under the guidance of the Maestro, carries out all the tasks he has been in charge of, according to a well defined process: 1) concept of the product; 2) project; 3) production; 4) final evaluation.

The Maestro and the tutor help the apprentice to recognize and interiorize those skills he/she gains: regular meetings are organized for an on‐going assessment. At the end of the program, Cometa Formazione and the Maestro evaluate whether and to what extent the apprentice has reached those goals identified in the training program (employability, qualification or specific level of competences).

b. Career guidance and counseling

Cometa Formazione offers its students several services for placement and recruitment based on a Life-Design method (Savickas et al. 2009), where students are leaded not just to learn “what to do”, but “how to face problems”. To this extent, counseling is not a one-off process, but it is a continuum strictly connected with the educational and training process and the internship program, by an holistic approach which includes motivation and attitudes. Three steps are included in this activity of counseling and coaching: career guidance, specialization, professionalization. The first step helps the students in preparing themselves to their internship through business visits or case studies. Specialization includes activities helping students in identifying their interests and possible roles in the company; the students realize their CV and simulate an interview. In the last step, during the fourth school-year, students are helped in choosing a company for their internship and in following the process of application for the job.

The spirit of entrepreneurship is stimulated during the whole period at school, by regular meetings with entrepreneurs, who share with students their experiences in developing their business and in facing problems and reply to their questions.

c. Main results

As showed in the table 2, the results of the school-enterprise method confirm the value of the method described in the previous sections.

Table 2: final results of school-year 2014-2015

Final results in the school year 2014-2015
Level 2 EQF (years 1 or 2) 177
Level 3 EQF (year 3) 67
Level 4 EQF (year 4 or “maturità”) 57
Total approval 301 (96,5%)
Failed 9
Drop out 2

 

Also the rate of placement is positive, with almost 70% of former students already employed after 6 months. Besides these results, even more importantly, 10% of the students finishing their fourth school-year (including some former dropouts) decide to get a diploma, which requires one more year of studies. This decision shows a higher level of maturity of the students, a proxy of the soft skills they learned during their education.

 

A distinctive method: 5 pillars for resilience and excellence

As emerged in the previous sections, Cometa is a very singular organization due to the diversity as well as the integration of its activities. This well integrated methodology has its starting point, not only chronologically, in fostering: from those activities, also the main aspects of school-enterprise model derive. Trying to identify a pedagogical and sociological approach as a common fabric of the different activities, five main pillars emerge:

  • Hospitality: students at Oliver Twist school find an environment where they can live the experience of personal care, essential to help anyone to become self-confident. In particular tutors play an essential role in taking care of the students: each tutor follows personally the students of two classes, leading them in the training process from the first school-year until they gain their qualification.
  • Sharing: the pathway of students to get their qualification and to develop their skills requires a personal involvement. However, students never develop their activities alone, but in strong connection with a Maestro, teachers and with the tutor. To some extent, all the activities imply a real collaboration among all the actors, where also families and firms are essential components of the process. Furthermore, working in team with peers is crucial.
  • Beauty: it plays a key role in the educational path. Good and beautiful environments stimulate a higher level of attention in taking care of everything and develop the perception that “everything is for you”.
  • Excellence: excellence is, above all, a personal attitude requiring students’ responsibility and freedom. In particular, the path towards excellence is a personal journey in the discovery of their own value, stimulating the desire to “become yourself”. Consequently, excellence is, per se, an inclusive pathway, for everybody, notwithstanding the skills or the interests of the student; but it requires a process of education based on daily experience of the relationship with the real world.
  • Innovation: there is no possibility to replicate “structures”. Every student has a personal path which need to be assessed and implemented. No top-down strategy can be applied to the students, but a continuous dialogue with the reality.

Although more research is required to deepen the scientific approach behind this method, these five elements are concretely present in all the activities provided in Cometa and lead the “way of thinking” of all the involved people, from the board to all the staff and, consequently, the students and the children.

Results seem to confirm this theoretical structure. Further research will try to offer a scientific background to the school-enterprise model and to the five pillars.

 

References

Cuhna, Flavio, James J. Heckman and Susanne M. Schennach. 2010. Estimating the Technology of Cognitive and Noncognitive Skill Formation. „Econometrica” 78: 883-931.

Delors, Jacques. 1996. Learning: The treasure within. Report to UNESCO of the International Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century. Available at: http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0010/001095/109590eo.pdf

Eurostat. 2014. Young people neither in employment nor in education and training by sex and age. Available at http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/en/web/ products-datasets/-/EDAT_LFSE_20

Longo, Anita. 2014. Orientamento in Cometa: Esperienze e metodologie a supporto delle strategie di aiuto e sostegno degli studenti. Risposte per affrontare esigenze, aspettative, incertezze e cambiamenti. Master thesis – Università di Pavia, mimeo.

Montalbetti, Katia. 2002. La pedagogia sperimentale di Raymond Buyse. Milan: Vita e Pensiero.

Savickas, Mark L., Laura Nota, Jerome Rossier, Jean-Pierre Dauwalder, Maria Eduarda Duarte, Jean Guichard, Salvatore Soresi, Raoul Van Esbroeck and Annelies E. M. Van Vianen. 2009. Life designing: A paradigm for career construction in the 21st century „Journal of Vocational Behavior” 75: 239-250.

Published by Anita Longo

Anita Longo

Anita Longo is an Information Technology professor at Università Cattolica School of Economics in Milan. She cooperates with IULM University on educational activities in ICT, and she operates as a consultant on new digital technologies and new media. Anita Longo holds a bachelor degree in Computer Science, a master degree in Economics and she collaborates with non-profits in the education field. She has a master degree as an Orientation Professional, to support young students and workers in deciding and planning their careers. Since 2015, Anita Longo has been Academic Coordinator at IATH Academy in Cernobbio (Como, Italy), a level 5 EQF institute which aims to train qualified junior professionals operating in the Tourism and Hospitality sectors.

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