St. John’s University Education Majors “Storm” Rome

SOE people pose for a picture in a classroom
November 20, 2019

Since 2015, Em Maslak, Ph.D., Professor of Curriculum and Instruction in The School of Education (SOE), has served as the on-site professor and faculty lead for the school’s unique Rome semester program, an experiential education-based program centered on teaching in classrooms through the “Eternal City.”

“By studying abroad on a career-focused program that offers hands-on experience, students develop a global mindset that enables them to be more effective teachers,” she said.

The Rome Education program embraces the University’s global mission in a truly innovative way: It is the first and only semester abroad experience in Italy based on a direct, collaborative partnership between a US education school and local primary and secondary schools. In addition to core courses, participants study writing in the educational context, teaching the fine arts, and teaching in bilingual settings, all of which complement the six to 10 hours they spend each week in school placements. 

Local school placements vary based on each student’s major in the SOE. Students link their SOE course work to original lesson plans in collaboration with Dr. Maslak and their local cooperating teachers, focusing on active learning strategies that include teaching through games, songs, and dances. 

Most impressively, each student must understand and account for substantial distinctions between standard pedagogical approaches in the US and in Italy. Dr. Maslak stresses the importance of this cross-cultural exchange, noting that while “it can be difficult for students to develop their teaching techniques while communicating with Italian colleagues across linguistic and cultural differences,” the potential rewards are extraordinary. 

Blayse Halvorsen, who attended the inaugural year of the program in 2015, now teaches in Virginia. “The atmosphere of the Roman elementary school had a huge impact in how I orchestrate my classes,” she said. She now places greater value on “getting to know my students’ interests,” which contributes to greater motivation and learning comprehension during class time.

Ms. Halvorsen said the program was always the first thing she mentioned in interviews, which has led her to find jobs more easily. She continues to use the skills she acquired in Rome to work with English language learners (ELLs) in the United States. In fact, in her math classes, she added, “Many of my principals come to me for advice on how to close the gap between our native English speaking students and ELL populations.”  

Not only does the program make students more attractive when they seek work after graduation, but it also changes the way they think about their careers. “Student teaching in Rome left a lasting impact, changing my career goals and leaving me an intrinsic motivation to travel and teach in other parts of the world,” said Daniella Malliae, a program alumna who plans to graduate next year.