By Mary Kemmer and Ema AllenAugust 24, 2018
VICENZA, Italy -- This summer hundreds of military children will move from one home to the next, something that can be difficult even for the most outgoing children and teens.
When you first move to a new country, or even just a new town, getting out of your hotel room can be incredibly difficult. Making new friends and relearning your surroundings compounds the stress.
Luckily for teens arriving in Vicenza, Beth Potter, school liaison officer with United States Army Garrison Italy, has continued and improved a program here that introduces new students in grades 6-12 to their new home. The program is called "Teenvenuti," a play on the Italian word for welcome, benvenuti. Teenvenuti includes learning some cultural aspects of living here as well as an opportunity for new students to meet people they'll be attending school with.
Potter didn't just improve a great experience to learn more about the community by visiting downtown Vicenza - she transformed the event into a student-led tour. Not only do students run the entire tour, but they also research and prepare speaking parts about some of the historical and cultural aspects of Vicenza.
"The program eases the student's transition and fosters an immediate sense of belonging," says Potter. The main goal of the program is to introduce arriving students to Italy and to some of their peers in the same grade. It helps new kids feel more at home, and increases the chance that most students will see a familiar face on the first day of school - something that can assist in their transition.
Touring downtown, taking the bus, visiting the schools and learning about sports on and off post are all part of the program, and it helps new arriving teens to know a little more about the Vicenza community.
On the day trip, attendees receive a highlights tour of downtown Vicenza. They visit the train station to learn how to purchase tickets, and pause to visit several historical sites such as the Basilica and Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio's house. Participants have a chance to meet and socialize with trip leaders and other new students during the tour and over lunch. Ella Parsons, a student leader who was once a participant, said the program was significant for her when she arrived in Vicenza.
"Two years ago, another participant and I met on the tour and now she's one of my best friends," Parsons said.
"(Over the years) I think the program has definitely improved," added Ella DuPree, a Teenvenuti leader who has been in the program for three years. "We are having more participants come back as leaders."
DuPree said she has watched as the program changed from a tour lead by adults to the student-led event that creates a welcoming environment and new friendships.
Teenvenuti is a great experience to help make the difficult transition easier on upcoming middle- and high-schoolers. The program is constantly changing and improving to help make the new students feel more comfortable in their new homes. (Authors Kemmer and Allen are teens who volunteer with the Teenvenuti program.)