Interview with Dr Sonia Fanucchi on Dante Alighieri
Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.
William Butler Yeats
Education with a particular focus on English literature and writing has long been my passion. I believe that not everyone learns in the same way. I spent most of my teaching years at St Dominic’s School having been employed there as Head of the English Department and as a Senior English teacher preparing students in Grade 12, their final year of school, from 1993- 2020. During my time there I experimented with a great variety of approaches in order to make teaching vital, and to ignite a love of learning in students. Covid -19 has forever transformed the educational landscape, leading to the development of hybrid systems and purely online schools. I feel as if I learnt an enormous amount in being a part of this revolutionary wave in education. It is with great interest and excitement that I am now embracing online approaches to education in the hope of being able to make a difference and keep the flame of learning alive in hearts and minds, in new spaces and in new ways. It makes it possible for me to offer poetry courses and Shakespeare courses online that may supplement current studies or may fulfill an educational interest.
While teaching at St Dominic’s I was also invited to head up and develop a performance management system across three schools. This was an interesting experience. For me the heart of the process was once again educational – the process of teaching and learning simply from a different angle. The process has been much debated in business forums and considerable research helped to construct a product with which we were all happy. It is a process that I intend to write about in the near future.
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THE HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH OLYMPIAD AT ST DOMINICS
Since 1994 Mrs Pat Fanucchi the HOD of the English Department and Matric English teacher at St Dominic’s has been encouraging students to enter for the annual English Olympiad Competition
About 4800 - 6400 students countrywide enter the competition each year and about 5 years ago entrants from other African countries have participated in the competition
During the 6week training sessions in the run-up to the final exam the students had a different book or poetry anthology prescribed to study for the exam each year. Many hours of writing, debating, discussions and constructive arguments took place on a weekly basis. Mrs. Fanucchi also organised talks by Professor Houliston and Dr. Fanucchi from the English Department at Wits University to assist the students with their study. The short story writer David Madali also paid a visit and gave a very interesting talk
Over the last ten years Ms. Fanucchi has taken the students on an Olympiad Getaway Weekend to Parnassus Farm in the Magaliesberg. In this beautiful place with its picturesque setting the students were able to enjoy the rolling hills, crisp mountain air, a hike to the top of the mountain, vast spaces, some intrepid wild baboons and sitting around a bonfire at night telling stories. This setting was conducive to the writing of many stories, lots of discussions and fiery debates and all this certainly enriched their love of the English Language
SOME STUDENT REFLECTIONS OF THE OLYMPIAD EXPERIENCE
“It has been a journey filled with enrichment of new knowledge and self discovery” – Abena Osei-Fofie
“When I signed up for the first time for the English Olympiad I had no idea what I was letting myself in for. Nothing and no-one could have prepared me for the most intense 6 weeks of my life” – Zandile Gando
“I always regretted my life choices at 16.30 every Thursday afternoon but eventually it became part of my identity :’I am an Olympian’ – Paballo Mosikidi
“A journey of endless opportunities full of hard work, sleepless nights and dedication but it was all worth it” – Khumo Molokomme
“The English Olympiad is one of my fondest memories and before I did it I had no idea of the depth and complexities of short stories” –Janene Tuniz
Over the past 26 years the students have always been very successful – bearing in mind that over four and a half thousand students write the exam every year the following results have been very impressive :
2004 – Elizabeth Preston – Whyte.
2005 – Reabetswe Moeti and Jessica More
1. 1994 – Dina Belluigi
2. 1998 – 2000 – Shakira Navsa
3. 2001 – Jackie Bischof and Claire Robinson
4. 2003 – Zanele Radebe
5. 2006 – Emma o’Toole
6. 2012 – 2013 – Anne Marie Huster
1. 2003 – Laura Indiveri
2. 2004 – Elize Cloete
3. 2005 – Katherine Smith
4. 2006 – Robyn Pienaar
TOP 42 . 2019 – Unathi Nkomo with a Scholarship to Rhodes
TOP 20 . 1996 – Tracy Nielson
1994 – Kim Coetzee – placed 13th overall
1998 – Sylvia Fanucchi placed 9th overall
2000 – Sonia Fanucchi placed 1st overall – a year’s free tuition at Rhodes and an all expenses paid literary tour of the UK
2002 - Jackie Bischof – placed 15th overall
2004 – Dario Fanucchi placed 5th overall
2004 – Carrie Richardson – trip to the Grahamstown Festival
2005- Danielle Boxshall Smith placed second overall – a year’s free tuition at Rhodes and and an all expenses paid literary tour of the UK
2006 - Fiona Preston-Whyte
2007 - Oratile Mashazi - placed 13th overall
2019 – Julian Yeates – Placed 5th overall and a scholarship to Rhodes
In conclusion Mrs. Fanucchi’s love and passion for the English Language and her enthusiasm for teaching the language has enabled her to instil this love of language in her students over so many, many years and her annual Matric results bear testimony to this.
Comments from some of her Matric students:
“We are sincerely grateful to Mrs. Fanucchi for her empowering lessons” – Julian Yeates 2017
“Mrs Fanucchi puts so much passion and enthusiasm into everything she does” – Janene Tuniz 2010
“I only look at the world of language the way I do because of Mrs. Fanucchi” – Zandile Gando 2016
I had the pleasure of first being introduced to Mrs Fanucchi in my final year of High School in 2020 when she became my grade 12 English teacher, and throughout that year I managed to learn more about the English language than I had ever done in previous years of schooling. Mrs Fanucchi’s deep love for the English language is infectious, and it is because of this passion that she is such a wonderful teacher, providing students with new perspectives on how to approach poetry and literature. She is an extremely patient and supportive teacher, providing help and sharing her knowledge every step of the way until you feel confident enough to face your exams.
Throughout my time knowing Mrs Fanucchi, she was well known for bringing the world of English to life in ways that extended beyond the classroom. The annual court case, held by the grade twelve learners is a shining example of this. In these court cases, the learners were allowed to explore the characters in their compulsory reading books in ways that they had never thought of by acting out a scenario where one of these characters was put to trial. Another of Mrs Fanucchi’s methods of bringing English to life was her annual Elizabethan evening where the English learners transported the attendees back to the16th century. In this evening, students gained a deeper understanding of their coursework through reciting classical poetry, putting on short scenes of Shakespeare’s plays, exhibiting dances and games typical of the Elizabethan era. Through both of these events, Mrs Fanucchi managed to take learning out of the classroom making learning an almost effortless task filled with fun.