Kids’ Italian program needs lira

It was a question Loretta MacKnight couldn’t answer.

Is a well-known Italian language course starting up again?, she was asked.

MacKnight could’ve definitively said “yes” when funding was appropriated for the Primavera Italian Language and Culture Program class last year.

But leaner budgets throughout the legislative spheres have jeopardized the children’s language program this time around, with MacKnight pleading for funds needed to start the weekend classes in Throggs Neck.

As of press time, about $2,000 is needed to cover the balance for the course.

‘Sin to say goodbye’

“I hate to see it go by the wayside,” said MacKnight. “Thirty-five years in this neighborhood. It’s a sin to say good-bye.”

MacKnight originally had Nov. 2nd in mind to begin the 16-week course held annually at the local St. Benedict’s School. Promising students from neighborhood grammar schools would be invited to participate in the free Saturday course, with some children walking from Castle Hill just to attend.

As it stands, $7,000 is needed to fully bankroll the program covering teacher’s time, activity books and a snack per class.

Help from pols

So far Congressman Joe Crowley appropriated $2,000 for the program, while Councilman Jimmy Vacca promised $3,000. And Senator Jeff Klein sent a letter to the Genoroso Pope Foundation on MacKnight’s behalf requesting funds.

MacKnight would likely start classes on Nov. 9 should a last-minute donation come through. Even then, she would still have to register students, a move she’s delayed.

But even if her efforts succeeded, given the tighter budget, MacKnight would still have to turn away children. Only 34 kids were admitted in the last class, down from 61 in the 2011-2012 year.

“This year, if I can get the money I hope to go back to the two classes,” said MacKnight.

The course combines an instructional and interactive approach to learning. On top of learning the Romantic idiom through activity booklets, students are also taught from an interactive perspective, learning about Italian foods like pizza and cannolis.

Benefit carryover

Language classes are something of a rarity in grammar or middle schools due to budget constraints. MacKnight believes that’s wrong, citing a statistic showing students who specifically take Italian do better on the English portion of the SATs.

“Italian is close to Latin, and English is derived from Latin roots,” noted MacKnight.

For now, as the clock ticks, MacKnight has refused to give up.

“I feel if I let this go,” said MacKnight. “It’s never coming back.”

David Cruz can be reach via e-mail at or by phone at (718) 742-3383

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