Suburbs' Italian Renaissance South Introduces Studies of Culture along with Language Class
Cutrer, Corrie, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Byline: Corrie Cutrer Daily Herald Staff Writer
Pass the pesto, then have some gelato. While you're at it, sample a slice of tiramisu, too.
Welcome to the world of Italy -or rather, benvenuti in Italia.
If you're not sure how to pronounce this hearty salutation, just ask one of more than 100 students who are studying Italian language and culture at South Middle School in Arlington Heights Elementary District 25.
The class, just introduced this fall, has quickly become popular among students at South who are required to begin studying a specific foreign language in the seventh grade.
The school's sixth-graders rotate every seven weeks through all three of the languages that South offers - French, Spanish, and now Italian. Then in seventh grade, kids choose which language they want to focus on full time.
Forty-five seventh-graders chose to take Italian this fall, requiring the school to open two separate classes.
Why such a draw? For starters, the estimated 3 million residents of Italian descent who live in Chicago and its suburbs want younger generations to learn more about their heritage, said Anna Fiore, education director for the Consulate General of Italy in Chicago.
This led a group of Italian Americans to create Italidea in 1995, a nonprofit organization committed to spreading Italian language and culture throughout Illinois.
The group got a jumpstart last spring when state Rep. Ralph Capparelli, a Democrat from Chicago, an Italian American himself, convinced the state legislature to set aside $300,000 for Italidea.
After receiving this money, Italidea then turned around and awarded funds to public schools to start Italian language programs.
South was one of dozens of schools that applied for a grant, and received $25,000 to purchase educational materials for new classes this fall.
Teacher Lisa Sasso, who also possesses Italian heritage, heads the new program at South. She seems like a perfect fit for the job.
In college, Sasso started studying French at Georgetown University before discovering her love for Italian while taking a few classes for her minor.
She later changed her major to Italian and studied for a semester in a Florentine villa that Georgetown operates before also spending time with relatives on the Adriatic Coast.
After college, Sasso returned to the Northwest suburbs to begin her stint as a French teacher at South eight years ago. Fortunately, she was fluent in both Italian and French, since at that point, teaching Italian wasn't an option.
Yet starting in 1995, when Italidea was formed, more schools across the state began to offer Italian courses to high school students. …