How this Milan school has made a 60-year tradition of innovation

Milan has been a centre for innovation ever since Leonardo da Vinci called the city home in the fifteenth century. So, it’s only fitting that the city’s premier international school has been a trailblazer for almost 60 years.

How this Milan school has made a 60-year tradition of innovation
Early Years students learning at ASM. Photo: Supplied

Together with the American School of Milan (ASM), we examine some of the major firsts in the history of the school, to understand how it continues to lead the way for international education in the region. 

First steps

With a need for a school to serve the growing number of English-speaking families in the region, the American Community School of Milan was founded in 1962. The school moved to its current location in 1976, by which time it had also adopted its current name The American School of Milan.

Since the move to Noverasco di Opera, just south of Milan, the campus has expanded to incorporate a 500-seat auditorium, 7 labs, 2 gymnasiums, robotics and Maker Space classrooms, with the capacity for 1000 students.

In the early ‘80s, ASM became the first school in the city to adopt the International Baccalaureate (IB), the ‘gold standard’ for international curricula. Since then,  nearly all of 11th and 12th graders follow the Diploma Programme in the last two years of high school. 

ASM allows every high schooler to follow the DP and challenge themselves with its rigorous curriculum. All graduates from ASM obtain an American high school diploma and those that pass the IB, then receive both diplomas.

Find out how American School of Milan has developed a world-class curriculum to meet the specific needs of your child

The ASM campus as seen from above. Photo: Supplied

Early adopters 

The effective use of technology has always been a priority at ASM. That is why, in 2000, it became one of the first schools in Europe to adopt a laptop program. Over the last two decades, the use of IT has flourished at the school – in elementary school, each student has access to an iPad.

In the upper school,  all students bring their own laptop or rent them through the helpdesk at school. Technology is an integral part of the curriculum and students entering 6th grade take a full year course of Digital Citizenship.

Not only do students work with laptops, but the ASM campus is now equipped with touch-screen smartboards, digital cameras and digital diagnostic tools, as well as a ‘MakerSpace’ in which teachers challenge students to solve problems using a range of equipment, tools and materials.

The school also has air quality monitors for Science classes,  drone building classes, Design and Technology courses, Computer Science IB course, CNC printer and laser cutter.

Technology is so integrated into the classrooms, that it was the first school in Europe to go completely online in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, and in less than 24 hours! Many other international schools in Europe, and around the world looked to ASM for guidance as the pandemic swept across the continent.

ASM’s strategic plan continues to pave the way for the expansion of effective and responsible technology use in the classroom, making sure it will remain the best equipped K-12 campus in Milan.

An ASM student uses equipment in the school’s MakerSpace. Photo: Supplied

The power of Art 

As much as the Italian Renaissance saw an explosion of artistic achievement reflecting the growth of knowledge, ASM understands that education of the whole student includes significant and meaningful exposure to all forms of Art.

Reflecting the wealth and popularity of Italian cinema, ASM was the first school in Italy to offer the Film Arts program at the IB diploma level, and budding filmmakers create a range of short films each year for their peers and teachers to enjoy. Several of these shorts have gone on to win awards at film festivals.

From the Early Childhood program to the 12th grade,  ASM students are involved in visual and performing arts.  Music classes are offered in orchestra, Band, Rock Band, and Choir. ASM students use a range of materials, as well as high-tech tools to express themselves visually, and their artwork can be found throughout the campus.

There is also an extensive music and drama curriculum that incorporates musicals and concert performances for elementary, middle and high schoolers.

Want to see what ASM can offer your child for yourself? Sign up to attend the Middle School Open House event on November 16

ASM Director Wayne Rutherford observing a Middle School arts class. Photo: Supplied

Stronger, higher, faster 

Physical education and a robust sports program form a central pillar of student development at ASM. Across each of the school’s divisions, physical education introduces students to a wide range of team sports and activities that address motor skill development. Students can also choose to engage and participate in athletics as part of the After School program, from elementary school onwards. 

From high school, ASM students can also participate in varsity and junior varsity sports as part of the NISSA and ECS competitions of international schools. ASM has enjoyed a great deal of success in this program, with the boys’ and girls’ varsity teams winning several NISSA and ECS competitions. 

The road ahead

Planning for the challenges ahead,  ASM spent the 2020–21 school year engaging staff, students, parents and other relevant stakeholders in developing a new Strategic Plan

This plan prioritises both financial resilience and continued development of advanced infrastructure, to make sure the school continues to offer the best international education in Milan.

In December, Director Wayne Rutherford will lead the school in celebrating the school’s 60th anniversary, and the entire community will remember the many firsts that ASM has achieved since its birth.

With this same kind of foresight, dedication and attention to detail in the years ahead, the school will undoubtedly innovate and thrive for another 60 years to come. 

Make an inquiry and begin your child’s path to a comprehensive education with the American School of Milan 

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OPINION: Why Milan is a much better city to live in than Rome

Milan or Rome - which of Italy's two major cities would you move to? After living and working in both, Roman-born journalist Silvia Marchetti explains why she would choose Milan every time.

Milan: the Italian city that has it all? 
Milan: the Italian city that has it all? Photo: Siavash on Unsplash

Italians are usually very attached to their birthplace and often think it’s the best city to live in. I was conceived and christened in Rome’s Trastevere neighborhood, so I’m a full-breed Roman. But whenever someone asks me which is better – Rome or Milan – I say Milan, and I don’t feel one bit guilty.

There are many reasons why I’d choose Italy’s finance capital over the Eternal City. I’ve had the chance to live and work in both, so have had time to weigh the pros (and cons) of each. 

In my view Milan beats Rome because it perfectly blends pleasure with quality of life; two things which do not always go hand in hand.

Milan’s livability depends on the beauty of the city, what it has to offer in terms of activities and events, and the efficiency of its services.  

Milan has always struck me as having a global, cosmopolitan appeal, of being a city always undergoing transformation, that looks to the future, is connected to the outside world and isn’t scared of change – probably due to the fact that it’s the capital of the Lombardy region, the economic engine of the country.

Rome on the other hand, despite all the grandeur and prestige of being Italy’s political center, is still very provincial. Apart from the archaeological wonders of the past and the overall ancient, laid-back vibe, I think it’s frozen in time. 

There are not many art exhibitions, little social buzz when compared to Milan, fewer international summits, and it’s hard to meet ‘global’ people other than expats already living in Rome. 


Milan has another rhythm. The Milanese are workaholics, always on the run, but in a neat way. 

They know they can bike to work along the many new cycle lanes, or that their morning train will likely be on time. What has always hit me in Milan is that there are more subway lines and stations (more than 100 in Milan vs 67 in Rome), and more train and plane connections to the rest of Italy and to the world. 

If you need to fly to Asia from Rome, you’ll find fewer long-haul flights and your plane will make a pit stop in Milan. Last time I wanted to go sunbathing in Pantelleria, Sicily, I had to fly from Rome Fiumicino to Milan Linate and take another flight. 

Milan’s skyline is amazing. In recent years it has undergone an urban metamorphosis unlike any other European city. Baroque palaces, designer boutiques and elegant boulevards are now juxtaposed with avant-garde buildings, vibrant neighborhoods that have been given a makeover, lush parks and futuristic skyscrapers designed by ‘starchitects’ that blend nature with architectural innovation and technology. 

A view from Milan’s “Library of Trees” botanical park in the Porta Nuova district shows the Unicredit tower (L) and the Bosco Verticale (R) high-rise complex. Photo: MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP

I see Milan as Italy’s ‘Little Manhattan’. The most mesmerizing ‘new’ buildings are the Bosco Verticale (Vertical Forest), by Italian architect Stefano Boeri, a set of two residential towers featuring trees jutting-out of glass balconies. The 202-meter tall Isozaki Tower, designed by Japanese architect Arata Isozaki for the new CityLife district, and the towers designed by Daniel Libeskind and Zaha Hadid. 

The new neighborhoods have a bohemian vibe. The revamped, trendy Isola-Porta Nuova district was once isolated from the rest of the city as an island, cut away by the train station, a ghetto where only factory workers lived. The modernist boom has worked a miracle. From once being an outcast zone it’s been given a second lease of life. Milan’s gentry has chosen it as their home, while old factory stores have been turned into artisan shops. Art galleries mingle with street art, bistros, experimental restaurants, jazz clubs and bikers’ get togethers.

But the great thing about Milan is that no matter how great its transformation ,it retains its original spirit and has found a balance between tradition and innovation.

And then there’s fashion, but what I love is the fashion with a ‘little’ F. Not the big brands, the glossy designer boutiques that line Via Montenapoleone, but the small artisan-run ateliers where family members have been making tailored, bespoke garments of the highest quality – from shirts to hats and shoes – for generations.

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What I probably love most about Milan are the art shows and exhibitions. There’s always so much to see and discover, each day there are new events and during the weekend you just don’t have time to squash everything in.

My second most loved Milanese plus point is the aperitivo ritual. 

The Milanese may be always in a rush, but at happy hour their heartbeat slows down and they finally chill. Aperitivo hour is that special moment at the end of a hard day’s work when you get together with your friends, relax, dedicate time to yourself, break the routine by indulging in evening drinks with finger foods.

My favorite cool drinking spots are panoramic terraces, rooftop lounges with infinity pools to admire the sunset, and ancient thermal baths. Elegant gardens, Renaissance palazzos, aristocratic mansions, old factories and art galleries have been restyled into fashionable and vibrant cocktail bars.

A view from the roof of Milan’s Cathedral extends to the Italian Alps. Photo: MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP

Whereas Rome’s Lungotevere banks come to life occasionally, the Navigli canals network is a buzzy, vibrant nightlife hotspot year-round. People get together on barges to enjoy apericena, another typical Milanese fad which blends aperitif time with dinner. My first one lasted 4 hours.

For those seeking to escape the social buzz, Milan also has a ‘quiet’ side which fascinates me. 

There are hidden, secret neighborhoods where time stands still, featuring weird buildings and ear-shaped statues such as those found in the Silence Quadrilateral where you can even spot real flamingos in gardens. Old historical mansions with lavish inner courtyards are worth visiting, too, they’re open to the public only on certain occasions known as ‘Cortili Aperti’ (Open Courtyards) and I recommend booking ahead. 

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The cool thing about Milan is it perfectly blends the modern with the old. There are mysterious spots I adore visiting each time: spooky crypts, ancient Roman underground ruins and damp chambers stacked with thousands of skeletons that were once used as hospital graveyards.

However, even the posh fashion district allows for a quick escape. Last time I was there I found refuge by losing myself in the maze of neat alleys behind the chic Via della Spiga.

I think Milan will always be Italy’s trend-setter, a city with an ‘international breath’, as Italians would say. You really feel that you’re in one of the world’s centers, and not just because there’s the stock exchange.

Sure, Milan is much more expensive than Rome. And that’s because the Milanese have higher salaries, thus a higher GDP per capita, which means the cost of living is higher compared to Rome (from food to property). The Milan-Rome comparison is the emblem of the south-north dichotomy.