The influence of Italian culture and language on modern Australia is undeniable and something for which so many of us are eternally grateful. We can thank Italian migrants for our love of coffee, pasta, pizza and football but they have also brought us their fashion, cars, art, music, film, entertainment and much more. As many as five percent of Australia’s population claim Italian heritage while at Santa Sabina that percentage is roughly double. Our in-College Italian heritage is evident within the very top level of our staff down to the very youngest cohort of students.
How appropriate then that our students in Del Monte, all of them, are now learning Italian and their teacher is an Italian native and new Australian, Dr Daniela Panico. Italian has always been taught to students from Year 1 to Year 4 but Italian classes are new this year for Prep and Kindergarten. Daniela has 300 Santa Sabina students, in fact all students from Prep to Year 4, and she teaches them at least once a week. In addition to her PhD in Linguistics from the University of Sydney, and her passion for bilingualism and heritage language maintenance in the Australian context, Daniela also has international experience in teaching Italian as a second language to all age groups, including in primary schools.
Daniela has taught in primary schools in Italy and the UK. She has coordinated projects for the promotion of second language learning and multiculturalism within linguistically and culturally diverse communities. She has worked as a member of an international committee in charge of the development of a syllabus for the teaching of modern foreign languages, working within the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. And Daniela has even taught her Australian husband to speak Italian, which is now the family language spoken at home, as much as possible, with their two children.
As well as teaching at Del Monte, Daniela retains her research and teaching position at the University of Sydney, where she is a part-time tutor, lecturer and researcher.
‘My field of study is heritage language and language maintenance within the family, in the school and in the community’, Daniela says.
‘Working at Santa Sabina makes a lot of sense and is ideal for my research – it’s my ideal work situation because Italian is also important here at the community level’.
Helping Daniela juggle the teaching of children who speak Italian at home, and those who have no Italian at all, is Toby the Italian tiger. Toby is particularly important to the weekly lessons for Prep and Kindergarten. Toby is a stuffed toy who gets very shy if people speak to him in English as he only understands Italian – our young children really want to engage with him so they quickly throw off any of their own shyness in trying out their Italian.
‘In Prep the lesson is just 30 minutes once a week. It sounds like nothing but it’s amazing from one week to the next to see how much they retain’, Daniela says.
Daniela’s lessons involve games, songs and activities based on repetition. In the older years conversations are often led by the students who bring their Italian heritage from parents or grandparents into the classroom.
Outside of Santa Sabina and the University of Sydney, Daniela is busy with her children and her involvement with local Italian organisations such as the Italian Institute of Culture. She jogs regularly and also completely switches off by playing the piano (she is the daughter of a professional musician). Benvenuta a Santa Sabina, Daniela!