Meet the little girl in Italy whose classmates are baby goats.
This fourth grader in Italy may well have one of the best online classrooms in the world - with plenty of fresh air, a horse and 350 goats to play with at break time.
Every morning 10-year-old Fiammetta Melis packs up her pink backpack and climbs up the hill behind her house in Caldes, northern Italy. She uses her mum’s phone to connect her computer to the internet and follows her lessons online, like most school children in Italy at the moment.
But Fiammetta isn't always alone. Her father keeps 350 goats on the beautiful hillside in Trentino-Alte-Adige and one or two have been known to make an appearance behind Fiammetta during her lessons.
"I am still able to concentrate," says Fiammetta. "Sometimes when there is a break I show my classmates and my teachers the kids and the goats, I move the computer around so they can see the location because they are all from the city."
What is life like for a goat herder in Italy?
Life as the daughter of a goat herder is no easy ride. Fiammetta wakes up at 4.30am to help her father tend to the animals. She takes part in every task, from loading straw to helping tie it in the middle of the road if it falls out of the truck.
While her classmates are still sleeping in their beds, Fiammetta is catching the goats to help feed the kids.
"In the morning when she wakes up she is always lively, always. She is always thinking of the goats, always," explains her father Massimiliano Melis.
"Even when she went to school, before going, she would call me from home to ask whether any goats have given birth, has this or that one had her kids, do we have new kids? I tell her to think about school and that I will tell her when she gets back from school. But that is her main concern. I was like her as a child as well to tell you the truth."
Unlike Fiammetta, many children in Italy are struggling with online classes. Mirko Bisesti, Council Member for Education of the Autonomous Province of Trento, says schools should be reopened.
"We strongly believe in the value of school and education services, especially for the little ones. The negative effects of shutting down schools, and learning from a distance are very worrying to us. That is why we are proud to claim that Trentino on a national level is where schools have been closed less than anywhere else.
“But these days we are living in are dramatic because parents that do not have jobs they can do from home, such as Fiammetta's case, have to come up and invent alternative solutions."
Back on the hillside, Fiammetta's homeschooling style has attracted quite a lot of attention.
Today the local authorities have brought her a brand new computer and router so she can follow her classes easily. Local Mayor Antonio Maini has always seen Fiammetta helping her father.
"They simply adapt to the situation in a positive way. They take a computer, set up a table and do what is needed, which is following classes online. The people of the mountains know how to adapt to different situations and this is exactly what they have done here."
Italy’s homeschooling system
Schools across Italy have been closed or partially closed since the start of the pandemic. Among those hardest hit are high school students, who have been learning from home almost exclusively since March 2020.
Middle and elementary schools have followed guidance depending on the number of coronavirus cases in their region. Areas have been classified into zones with red being severe, followed by orange, yellow and white.
The latest government decree has tightened measures in schools. It states that all schools (including nursery and elementary) in "red zone" regions must remain closed.
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