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Primavera Italian language program continues

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Primavera Italian Language and Culture program has children flocking to St. Benedict’s School to attend language classes on Saturdays, something that is no easy feat.

The program, in existence for three decades, first began teaching middle and junior-high aged students Italian with funding from former Senator Guy Velella and the late Councilman Michael DeMarco at St. Theresa and St. Lucy’s churches. This year, more than 75 students came to class on the program’s first day at St. Benedict’s School on Saturday, October 24. Sixty were registered before classes began, and news quickly spread through word of mouth as even more showed up.

Program organizer Loretta Ziano said that the free program could attract even more children if a seventh and eight grade class is added. The turnout on the first day is gratifying since Ziano and members of the Waterbury LaSalle Community Association had to take over running the program in 2009, after Italic Institute of America pulled out, citing financial difficulties. The institute ran the program from its inception until 2008.

“We have two classes right now: beginning and advanced Italian,” Ziano said. “At this rate, we might have to add a third.”

Ziano said that the demand is there for the program, which exposes young people to the language and culture of Italy. They learn about things like Carnevale, an annual Venetian festival where decorated masks are worn as part of a celebration, in addition to language fundamentals.

Students of all nationalities and backgrounds from P.S. 14, P.S. 71, P.S. 72, P.S. 304, I.S. 101, Urban Institute of Mathematics and Mott Hall Community School participate in the renamed Primavera program, originally titled the Aurora program. Private schools participating include St. Frances de Chantal, St. Benedict’s, Villa Maria Academy, Our Lady of the Assumption, Greek American Institute, St. Francis Xavier, and Greek American Institute.

Senator Jeff Klein and Assemblyman Michael Benedetto have pledged money to the program, and Councilman Jimmy Vacca secured a grant through Bronx Council on the Arts. Benedetto’s funding has paid for free books the children will receive a few weeks into the program. Vacca paid for supplies. Klein’s funding should pay the teachers. The program runs from 10 a.m. to noon every, Saturday morning.

“We were able to secure funding for this program at the 11th hour,” Benedetto said. “This is Saturday, and the kids don’t have to be here, so it is really great that they are. I am happy to play a continuing role in supporting this program.”

Students in the program said that they were studying Italian for a variety of different reasons, including connecting with their heritage and helping on standardized tests, like the SAT. Ziano said that research has shown that students that study Italian score better on the verbal portion of the SAT.

“Learning Italian is good because if you go to Italy you can interact with people,” said Primavera student Jordan Epps.

“I enjoy studying Italian because my family is Italian and it is a great way to learn more about my culture,” said student Angelina Zervos.

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