Fourth Annual “Teaching Italian Symposium-Workshops—The New AP Italian Exam”

Presented by the Coccia Institute and Department of Spanish and Italian

On October 21st in the Conference Center of University Hall, the Coccia Institute for the Italian Experience in America, and the Department of Spanish and Italian hosted the fourth in their annual signature series of professional development programs to foster excellence in the teaching of Italian in the Tri-State area’s elementary and secondary schools.

This year’s event—Teaching Italian: A Symposium/Workshop for Instructional Materials-- Meeting IV: The New AP Exam: Formazione di docenti e discenti—was dedicated to the memory of Professor Barbara Carbon, a beloved faculty member of MSU’s Department of Spanish and Italian, as well as a member of the Teaching Italian Symposium’s Organizing Committee since its inception. In a tribute to Barbara, who had been scheduled to present and conduct workshops during this event, and in recognition of her expertise in the field, copies of her posthumously published Italian workbook/lab manual, Sei Pronto . . .  a Cominciare?   were distributed to current AP Italian teachers attending the event.  Department colleague Prof. Andrea Dini’s touching reflections on “la Professoressa Carbon” moved not only those privileged to have known and worked with her,  but all guests in attendance. 

This year’s focus on preparation for the Advanced Placement Exam in Italian was particularly important given the recent agreement to reinstate the AP Exam in Italian Language and Culture, the culmination of a joint initiative by the Italian government, and Italian and Italian American organizations. A formal accord was signed just one year ago at the offices of the Consulate General in New York City by College Board President Gaston Caperton and  Ambassador Giulio Terzi di Sant’Agata, then Italian Ambassador to the United States.   You may recall that Amb. Terzi, who last month was appointed Italy’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, had delivered an outstanding keynote address on the humanitarian efforts of the Italian government to the MSU community in March, 2009.

This year’s AP Italian-focused symposium featured two respected specialists in not only foreign language pedagogy but the AP Italian Exam itself—Dr. Elissa Tognozzi of UCLA and Dr. Frank Nuessel of the University of Louisville.  Dr. Tognozzi and Dr. Nuessel delivered presentations and conducted workshops specifically designed to enhance Italian teachers’ efforts to prepare students of Italian to succeed in the May administration of the reinstated and significantly modified AP Exam.

An additional highlight of the all-day event was the presentation of the prestigious “Coccia-Inserra Award for Excellence and Innovation in the Teaching of Italian (K-12),” a nation-wide award recognizing the work of the too-often unsung heroes in the classroom.  The 2011 recipient, Rosalie Romano, who received her Masters Degree in Italian from La Scuola Italiana, Middlebury College, has been teaching Italian at St. Peter’s Preparatory School in Jersey City since the fall of 2000, and was appointed chairperson of its Modern Language Department in the fall of 2009. The Award was presented by Coccia Foundation Vice President Elisa Coccia and Professor Andrea Baldi, Department of Italian, Rutgers University/New Brunswick, who was a member of the distinguished panel who oversaw the Awards process. Other members of this ‘blue ribbon panel’ were  Professor Anthony Tamburri, Dean of the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute at CUNY/Queens College; Dott. Antonio Benetti, Director of Education for the Consulate General of Italy in New York;  Professor Roberto Dolci, Universitaˋ per Stranieri di Perugia; and MSU’s own Professor Marisa Trubiano.

The beautiful plaque presented to Ms. Romano—inscribed with Una brava insegnante può cambiare il mondo! (i.e., a great teacher can change the world!)—was accompanied by a generous $2000 check from donors Joseph Coccia and Lawrence Inserra, to be used for the development and implementation of language and culture programs in Ms. Romano’s classroom. 

The members of the Teaching Italian Symposium Organizing Committee—Profs. Enza Antenos-Conforti, Andrea Dini and Steven LaPeruta; Coccia Institute Director Dr. Mary Ann Re, and Program Student Assistant Victoria Buchner—were gratified to receive feedback on the workshop from Dr. Andrea Baldi, Professor of Italian, and former Italian Department Chair, at Rutgers University.  Dr. Baldi who has participated in the Teaching Italian program over the last several years noted: 

“Your symposia have played a crucial role in fostering the pedagogic competence of teachers of Italian in the Tri-State area. During the  Symposium, I had the pleasure to talk to several of our former MAT students, who are currently teaching at the K-12 level. They were delighted to have the opportunity to advance in their profession through your series, and expressed the wish that these meetings will continue to strengthen their abilities and provide them with educational stimuli, keeping their knowledge in tune with progress in the field. They now feel more self-assured and ready to confront the AP Exam. I am sure that further meetings will help them to feel even more supported and inspired.”

He concluded with commendations ‘for such a ground-breaking initiative, which fills a void in the formation of our teachers of Italian.  Congratulazioni vivissime.”

Complementing and reinforcing Dr. Baldi’s comments were those from the high school teachers in attendance, many of whom were ‘repeat customers’ from previous workshops. Following are a few remarks, representative of the feedback received from symposium participants:

     Fabulous teaching strategies!! Things to give to my students to help them grow confident that they can succeed on the AP.

     I can’t wait for next year!  It is always a pleasure to be around Italian speakers and share ideas that motivate students and teachers alike!

     I look forward to this every year.  Grazie, grazie!!

Postscript:  Only two weeks later, many of the teachers who had participated in the Teaching Italian Symposium made a return visit to Montclair State for yet another professional development experience hosted by the Coccia Institute for the Italian Experience in America.  Entitled “Italia di oggi,” this lively and intensive five-hour workshop, built around the themes of education, immigration and the economy in contemporary Italy, was conducted by Profs. Nicoletta Santeusanio and Roberto Dolci, from the Universitaˋ per Stranieri di Perugia.    MSU’s having been selected as ‘the academic institution of choice’ in New Jersey for the hosting of this professional development event sponsored by IACE (the Italian American Committee on Education at the Italian Consulate General in NY) is a further indication  of MSU’s growing status as New Jersey’s center of excellence—i.e., ‘the place to be’-- for Italian language teaching.