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La Nostra Lingua

Adult language instructor Kathryn Occhipinti

Growing up in an Italian-American family, Kathryn Occhipinti experienced the Italian food, the emphasis on togetherness and the practicing of the Catholic faith. But she felt one piece of her heritage was missing: the language. Her grandparents and parents would converse in Italian, making it even more of a mysterious to her. After completing her medical training, she spent years studying the language, writing books and teaching classes in conversational Italian. She gears her efforts toward adult learners with a desire to travel to Italy. “Today, people are trying to understand where they came from, and the language was really ...

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Dist. 214 administrator Angela Briguglio Hawkins

  An Italian teacher and administrator in northwest suburban High School District 214, Angela Briguglio Hawkins was known as “the American” when she was growing up in Sicily. That’s because she was born in Oak Park, but her parents decided to move the family back to their native Sicily when Briguglio Hawkins was two-and-a-half years old. They missed their relatives. “I did all my schooling in Italy, up until the equivalent of the first year in high school,” she says. “But then my dad was worried about the lack of economic opportunity in Europe, so my parents moved back to ...

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Rolling Meadows instructor Antonino Bondi

  Spending every summer of his childhood in Sicily convinced Antonino Bondi that he wanted a career somehow related to Italy. He never pictured himself as a teacher in those days, but he has realized his dream in a classroom. Bondi, 31, the son of parents who immigrated from Sicily to Chicago in the 1970s, teaches Italian 2, 3 and 4 in northwest suburban Township High School District 214. He starts his day teaching at Rolling Meadows High School, and then travels to Prospect High School in Mount Prospect to teach in the afternoons. For someone who spoke the Sicilian ...

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East Leyden instructor Michele Curley

Michele Curley’s love of languages and cultures started at age 14. That’s when her grandmother, Filomena Conversano Pesano, who at 17 had left Basilicata and journeyed alone to the United States, decided to take Michele, her five siblings and her parents back to Basilicata. “It was a really transformative experience,” Curley, an Italian teacher at East Leyden High School, says of the month-long visit. They met relatives, took road trips around southern Italy, returned to Basilicata and then went north to Rome, Florence, Pisa and Venice. When they returned to the Chicago area, Curley wanted to take Italian when she ...

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Highland Park High instructor Maria Barbanente

  Prior to arriving at Highland Park High School two years ago, Maria Barbanente had already blazed a trail where life’s adventures had added depth to her linguistic skills. The daughter of native Italians from the Puglia region, Barbanente had a master’s degree in education, and a certification in Spanish, by the time she arrived in Madrid, Spain to teach English for two years. It was hardly her first time in Europe. “Learning the Italian language and having been fortunate enough to travel to Italy every summer as a child, I was able to further explore the Italian culture and ...

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Maine Township instructor Toni Campisciano Ungaro

In her fourth year at Maine East and Maine West High Schools in District 207, Toni Campisciano Ungaro has both the academic and ethnic credentials to make her a leader in language instruction. The child of Sicilian parents, Campsciano Ungaro has a refreshing approach to teaching Italian: “Learning a language has to be fun, relevant and engaging,” she says. “My teaching methods are varied in order to reach all students. Whether it’s cooperative learning, a CRISS strategy or a fun learning game, students do many different things in my classroom to practice their language skills and show me what they ...

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Maine South Instructor Cristina Modica

For those fortunate enough to grow up in America speaking Italian, it often becomes a mission to share the language with kids in your own backyard. Just ask Cristina Modica, who teaches Italian at Main South High School District 207 in Park Ridge. “My parents were both born in Italy in a small town, Castel San Vincenzo in the region of Molise,” says Modica, whose maiden name is Marzullo. “My mother was 27 when she moved here and didn’t speak English; I learned Italian before English. I’ve always spoken Italian and was raised in the Italian culture. It’s an integral ...

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Ridgewood High instructor Dolores Pigoni-Miller

When Dolores Pigoni-Miller steps into class at Ridgewood High School in Norridge, she’s not just teaching Italian, but honoring her own bloodline. “My parents, Anna and Romolo Pigoni, came from the same town in northwest Toscana,” she says. “I think Ceserano is one of the most beautiful places in the world. It’s an ancient town that sits at the foot of the Apennines.” And from there, you can see the slopes, not far from the Cinque Terre, where Michelangelo quarried marble for his masterpieces. It’s only fitting, then, that Pigoni-Miller teaches Italian to her 120 students as though it were ...

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Loyola University instructor Anna Clara Ionta

Anna Clara Ionta signs all her emails in Italian, with the words of French socialist leader Jean Jeaurès. Translated into English, the signoff reads:”We do not teach what we want to; actually, we do not teach at all what we know/ Or what we think we know: We can only teach what we are.” It’s a fitting motto for a remarkable woman who has taught Italian at Loyola University Chicago since 1987 — she started as a visiting lecturer sponsored by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Readers may recall Ionta as Fra Noi’s Italian editor for three years; she ...

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Fenwick High School instructor Noreen Moore

When Noreen Moore started the Italian language program at Fenwick High School in Oak Park, she had enough students to fill one classroom — 30, to be precise — taking Italian 1. Just as those first students grew in the language, so did the Fenwick program, which today has two full-time teachers, including Moore, and serves between 130 and 180 students across four grade levels and an advanced placement program. “We’re up and down depending on the year, but we’ve always been over 100 students taking Italian on all four levels,” says Moore. “And just year, they asked me to ...

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