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Saturday Italiano, tomorrow the world

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Priscilla Mbimadong strolled from her Parkchester home to St. Benedict’s School on the morning of Saturday, March 7. No lazy weekend for Mbimadong. No pancakes. No cartoons. Mbimadong, a ten-year old P.S. 14 fifth grader, prefers Italian.

She’s one of 65 youngsters registered for the Primavera Italian Language & Culture Program – sponsored by the Waterbury-LaSalle Association this year.

“Italian is so cool,” Mbimadong said. “I have no clue what a word means and then I learn it.”

Assemblyman Guy Velella founded the weekend Aurora program three decades ago, determined to preserve the neighborhood’s Italian heritage. In 2000, there were 3,528 Italian immigrants living in Community Board 10.

From its inception through 2008, the Italic Institute of America ran the Aurora program. Last fall, the Long Island organization begged out, citing financial troubles. Waterbury-LaSalle’s homeowners agreed to pinch-hit.

Senator Jeffrey Klein and Assemblyman Michael Benedetto will fund the program in 2009. Councilman James Vacca helped secure a grant from Bronx Council on the Arts. The program has acquired a new name.

“The Primavera program is a great opportunity for kids to learn a second language,” Waterbury-LaSalle member Mary Jane Musano said. “Research shows that Italian language learners score better on the SAT.”

Loretta Zano teaches at Villa Maria Academy; she joined the Aurora/Primavera program six years ago.

“I do this as a tribute to my parents,” Zano said. “People say I’m crazy – teaching on Saturdays. But it’s fun.”

The Primavera program is free. In the past, it catered to fourth, fifth and sixth graders. Zano recently added a class for seventh and eighth graders. The program meets Saturdays 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. for 12 weeks. Zano covers conversational Italian and Italian culture – history, songs and biscotti. Many of her students are Italian-American.

“My dad was born in Italy,” said Vincent Trentacosta, a ten-year old P.S. 14 fifth grader. “Someday I’ll go there on vacation.”

Tina Cucci emigrated from Italy as a small child. Her mother speaks Italian at home. Her daughter, Valentina, attends Villa Maria Academy and the Primavera program.

“This was Valentina’s idea,” Cucci said. “My mom is thrilled.”

But this is the melting pot Bronx. Mbimadong’s parents hail from Ghana. Her father speaks 11 languages.

“I was lucky to grow up in the same house as my grandparents, who passed down our family traditions,” he said. “In the modern world, such a luxury is increasingly rare. To all the new students, in boca al lupo – good luck!”

On Saturday, Zano cornered a shy Primavera program participant.

“Come si chiama?” she asked. “What’s your name? Signora Tiffany? Eccellente! Give her a Euro!”

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