At Cometa there are no study plans for professional qualifications and diplomas, but real craft workshops instead. The workshop of taste, of wood, of nature and of fabrics, which in Como, the city of silk, means to combine tradition and innovation. Kids learn through working: inside the school there is a bar and a restaurant open to the public (respectively with 32 thousand and 8 thousand customers per year), in which the students work for two days a week alongside the teaching staff. The same applies to the other workshops: in December 2016 the three showcases in one of the commercial "temples" of Christmas, “La Rinascente” in Piazza Duomo in Milan, were designed and made by students of the Carpentry Workshop of Cometa and a shirt designed by the pupils of the textiles workshop was put on sale by Berskha even before that. All training programmes here are based on project work: this means that all training activities are linked to a genuine work order, product or service, on which the boys are tested for the entire school year, from design to production. In the words of the boys, if at school "we pretend", in here "you do it for real".
Work is the encounter with the real world
Cometa is an organisation of families involved in the reception, education and training of children and young people and in the support of their families. The story began in 1987 with an HIV positive child given in custody to Erasmo Figini and his wife Serena: at dinner here it is normal now for there to be sixty people. Being open to the possibility of child care revealed how too many boys had given up on school: Cometa Formazione was thus established in 2003, to give a different answer to the boys that school has abandoned. In 2009 the Oliver Twist School opened and then, in 2015, the first scientific high school for crafts in Italy. Today in this school-business 400 children are trained each year and about fifty arrive as early school leavers. The key to everything is the link between the experience-reality-work as a gateway to learning: "The work process becomes an element of didactic planning and the work experience is also used as a key to training: disciplines arise to solve problems even if we have forgotten," explains Alessandro Apples, director general of Cometa, "if children understand it everything changes, because it becomes a comparison with reality. School is too often too far from reality".
The work process is an element of didactic planning. School is too often too far from reality.
The impact of the Cometa model
Described in this way Cometa seems like a fairy tale, a best practice to take along to conventions, beautiful but distant, impossible, unrepeatable. Cometa has a story that cannot be told by the same people who are writing it, it must now be told by others. For example the European Training Foundation: two years ago it listed the Comet model as one of the ten best in Europe. Or as We4Youth, the initiative of the Sodalitas Foundation as part of The European Pact4Youth, which has just singled out Cometa as a case of excellence.
Tiresia, the research centre on innovation and finance for the social impact of the School of Management of Milan Polytechnic, put Cometa under the magnifying glass in 2016 to measure the social impact of its training model. Some data? "95% of those who passed through here acknowledged an increase in skills,94% of those who had had a drop out experience are recovered and complete the training. From 2012 to today60% of the students of Cometa have found a stable job, a value of 8% higher than the average for professionals in Italy and have an average income of 900 euro per month: this means an "almost economic independence" from the family", explains the director Mario Calderini. The 50 early school leavers that Cometa “recovers” every year for training "generate a saving of 650,000 euros per year on public spending and the direct economic value generated in 2015 was 2 million euros". Moreover: 18% of former students occupied found work in the company where the job training was done, 70% have a job coherent with the study programme followed (rising to 84 % in the case of catering) and more than 93% of the students claimed to have grown professionally during the school.
60% of students of Cometa have a stable job, a value of 8 % higher than the average for the professionals in Italy.
The Agnelli Foundation and the University of Milano-Bicocca have also recently studied the Cometa model to understand not the effectiveness but the transferability. The report was presented in February 2017 and professor Susanna Mantovani has identified three elements that should be transferred: first, "without doubt you can recreate the network in other territories, urging and involving companies, not just talking about the network but creating it"; second, "practice the combination of reception and need, this is a very demanding school because it is very welcoming, on the educational level can we demand the most from the boys because we are welcoming and acknowledge them"; third, "give concrete content to words like "individual project" and " school-work alternation"".
The entire chain of vocational training
The real strong point however is that Cometa does not end at Cometa. In 2014 in Cernobbio the courses of IATH – International Academy of Tourism and Hospitality started. IATH is a Senior Technical Institute, a new school for non-university service sector training, with an educational offer of two years post-diploma, highly job-oriented and aimed at immediate entry into the world of work: the schools which Italy needs more (in fact more than 80% of their graduates have jobs), but still chosen only from 0.2% of students against a 11% of the OECD average. Cometa is one of the founders of IATH, together with the main Italian and international hotel groups, the town of Cernobbio, the Caio Pliny Institute and other schools, thus covering all levels of vocational training: from the age 14, until employment.