Story and photos by LeAna Crowley
As the daughter of a stonemason, Alfonza Costantini understands that strong foundations lead to strong futures. As a maestra or teacher, she knows education lays that important groundwork in a child’s life.
“I build the future,” Alfonza says, referring to her work as a teacher.
Twenty years ago, Alfonza says, she didn’t need a university education to become a teacher. Her deep passion for teaching started when she was a young girl. While no one else in her family taught, she says her own dreams of teaching are deeply rooted. Her high-school years demonstrated a talent for literature. By the end of her high-school exams, Alfonza scored well enough to pursue her teaching passion.
During her early years, a flooded job market and the death of her father put Alfonza’s teaching dreams on hold. For six years, she gave up her pursuit of a teaching post to run her father’s stone masonry business.
Eventually, Alfonza found a full-time teaching position at Pianello Elementary School outside of Cagli. She specializes in teaching math, science and geography to students in grades first through fifth. Alfonza estimates her lessons last one hour each in different classrooms. She and another teacher split the subjects and rotate teaching duties.
She lights up when she talks about the children. Alfonza’s students come from diverse ethnicities and cultures: Romania, Russia, China, and Brazil, and all the students speak their native language and Italian. At lunchtime, no lunch is served, so students go home for their break. Most children go to their grandparents’ homes. If a student is having a difficult day or is sick, the teacher calls home. But if there is no response, the child will finish the day at school.
“If kids know you are well, they are well,” says Alfonza confidently.
Alfonza fortifies her teaching skills by attending monthly workshops in Cagli led by experts. These monthly continuing education classes vary in length but take place after her six-hour days. Her daily drive to work is 13 kilometers on a twisting mountain road.
As she pulls into the little mountain community, Alfonza abruptly stops her car when she notices her student alone on the side of the street. She rolls the window down to ask him why he is out by himself. Reluctantly, the student approaches the car to answer her questions; she hugs the boy and drives on. Only a block further into town, Alfonza stops the car when she notices her peer teacher. Again, she exchanges conversation and a hug.
Alfonza is obviously good at her job.
Recently, Alfonza’s teaching career is threatened again, but this time by bureaucracy and modernization. Budget cuts endanger the elementary school’s future. The school, which serves 13 children, needs repairs and updates as it lacks plumbing and electricity. Closing the doors to the building will leave the children, administrators, and teaching staff without a school. She could lose her position, or she might be out of work while waiting for repairs on the school. Her fear is a possible reality.
“You have to live with yourself,” says Alfonza in regard to choosing happiness over fear. Her genuine love for her students, work, and peers is what drives her daily decision to be a teacher. “(I) try to extract the best out of (her students).”
She remains hopeful about the future of Pianello Elementary, her students, and her teaching position. With quiet pride, a soft demeanor, and love in her eyes, she says, “I like my job and teaching at my school.”