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Fenwick High School instructor Noreen Moore

Noreen Moore

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 start the AP Italian class, so we started that in Sept. with 16 students. It’s great, and they’re all very fluent; it’s very nice.”

Moore, whose maiden name is Storino, traces her paternal ancestry to San Fili in Calabria. “We were just there again this past summer with my whole family,” she says, recalling a trip with deep familial significance. “We went back with my 91-year-old father so he could see the place where his family came from. My mother had just passed away, and he had been begging to go back to Italy. He was not born over there, but my grandmother was pregnant with him right off the boat.”

Moore traces her love for Italian culture straight to childhood — when Sunday afternoons were spent with her father’s parents — and her pursuit of the language to high school. It’s no exaggeration to say that her alma mater, Trinity High School in River Forest, had to catch up to her in terms of language: She had to wait until Italian was first offered to take it, and was one of the school’s charter language students. (She has also studied French and Spanish.)

To call her an influential teacher is putting it mildly. A few of Moore’s first students are Italian teachers themselves, and she received Fenwick’s Father George Conway Award for teaching excellence in 2012. Yet ask her how she does it, and Moore would rather talk about the program than shine a light on herself.

“We’ve always infused a lot of culture in the teaching, right from the first level,” she says. “It’s poetry, geography and everything that would be a part of using the language: listening, writing and speaking. The students write essays and analyze poetry right from the first year, and by level two, they’re reading a very abridged version of ‘Pinocchio.’ Every class is reading something appropriate to the level they’re on.”

They can also deepen their understanding through Fenwick’s Italian Club, which sponsors a St. Joseph’s Table, pizza-and-movie gatherings that feature Italian cinema, and “a morning meeting called ‘mangiamo e parliamo,’ let’s eat and let’s talk. The freshman can come in and say a few words, but they might be listening to the juniors and seniors who are speaking and even texting in Italian all the time, so they learn from their peers.”

Moore also hastens to add that in the classroom, Fra Noi plays a key role: “My students use Fra Noi,” she says. “From levels 1 through 4, they can tell me some current event that’s going on Italy for extra credit. They like the fact that they can tell me something that’s going on in Italy, thanks to Fra Noi, and sometimes it becomes a competition to see who gets to report on which event first.”

About Lou Carlozo

A former longtime staff writer, editor and columnist for the Chicago Tribune, Lou Carlozo is a personal finance contributor to Reuters and the proud writer of Fra Noi's Lou&A column, which spotlights important Italian Americans. He is currently studying for his master's degree at National-Louis University, where he teaches journalism and writing on the graduate school level. He also writes for the Tribune Content Agency and a variety of other freelance outlets including DealNews, Money Under 30 and Yesware. He lives in the North Center neighborhood of Chicago with his wife of more than 17 years, Amy (a hospice chaplain), and two children.