Italian program teaches culture
Arizona  Republic
Nov. 7, 2005
Patricia Bathurst

Through grape stomping and fresco painting, preschoolers at GateWay and South Mountain community colleges are learning Italian and Italian culture.

"It's fun for the teachers and the students," said Ann Cason, supervisor of the Children's Learning Center at South Mountain. "We have a lot of arts and crafts, and this is where we've worked in aspects of Italian culture."

Funded by a grant from the Phoenix-based Resource Center Italiano (RCI), the preschool language program is called Alba, or "dawn" in Italian. It's part of an effort to teach children in three languages: English, Italian and Spanish.

Benefactor Amelia Viola Gallucci-Cirio helped make the program possible, said Michelle Nardi, executive director of RCI.

"She (Gallucci-Cirio) is committed to broadening understanding of Italy, the language and culture, and hopes this is a beginning in the schools here in Phoenix," Nardi said.

RCI's intent is to expand the program throughout Phoenix schools, Nardi said. By beginning with the preschools, RCI hopes to spark interest and excitement, and to demonstrate language and cultural incorporation within the school day.

To do that, GateWay and South Mountain educators teamed up to develop a series of brightly colored books depicting shapes, numbers, colors and basic vocabulary using three languages (Italian, Spanish and English). There are also backpacks that the children take turns taking home. The backpacks hold books, recipe and activity cards, and a soccer ball.

At both South Mountain and GateWay centers this fall, activities have included fresco painting by covering the underside of tables with paper so the children can lie on their backs to paint. They also are carving modeling clay, stomping grapes and tossing pizzas.

"We're using bottled grape juice for drinking," said Teri Nordhoff, supervisor of GateWay's Children's Learning Center. "We're just getting the feel for actually stomping grapes."

Both centers use a stuffed bear nicknamed Alba to help engage the children.

"When Alba comes out," Cason said, "everyone knows something especially Italian is about to happen, whether it's a story, activity or art project."

Some may question beginning this program at a preschool level, Nordhoff said. But she expects the program will have a long-term impact.

"Exposing children to other cultures helps them understand the diversity in the world," she said.

Barbara Maggiio, program and service administrator for RCI, agreed. "The earlier you begin to understand and appreciate other cultures, the more confident you can become in moving through the world."