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La Nostra Lingua

Casa instructor Giovanna “Jackie” Dimetros

It only seems like Casa Italia’s popular language and cuisine instructor, Giovanna “Jackie” Dimetros, is leading a double life. Some people know her as Giovanna and others as Jackie, she has inexplicably English and Greek surnames, and people aren’t certain whether she’s a cooking or Italian teacher or both. But she is in fact one delightful Italian-born Chicagoan who integrates all these identities. The story begins during World War II. An American Army officer, Major Jack Spears, a Chicago native stationed in Tuscany, fell in love with his future wife Miranda in the town of Livorno. After they married, they ...

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Linguistic entrepreneur Gianluca Butticè

When Gianluca Butticè moved from his native Sicily to the U.S., he faced the challenges of learning English and American culture. Surmounting that learning curve inspired him to make the journey easier for others. So after spending the past several years teaching Italian, he is branching out into offering tours of Italy that encompass language and culture in a mutually enhancing way. “I know the doors that are opened when you learn a new language,” he says, explaining that traveling, learning the culture of a country and learning the language can all reinforce each other. Butticè, 41, believes everything he ...

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Addison Trail instructor Judie Vitiritti-Lynch

At a recent awards banquet, Judie Vitiritti-Lynch was so engaged in talking to her former students that she didn’t hear the emcee announce her name. A colleague prompted her to walk up to the podium, because she had won the Italian Consulate in Chicago’s first-ever Midwest Award for Leadership in the Teaching of the Italian Language and Culture. “I was stunned, because I was up against some very good people, and everyone was so deserving,” recalls Vitiritti-Lynch, who became Addison Trail High School’s first Italian language teacher in the early 1990s and pioneered the program. In her first year, she ...

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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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