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Maine Township instructor Toni Campisciano Ungaro

Toni Campisciano Ungaro

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 know.” (CRISS astounds for “creating independence through student-owned strategies.”)

A teacher of Spanish as well, Campsciano Ungaro is known to go to creative lengths to instill fervor for the language in her students. That could range from an immersion day for her upper-level pupils at DePaul University, to a field trip to Fra Noi’s headquarters to discuss the important role Italian Americans have played in our nation’s history. “While learning about regional Italian cooking, my Italian 2 students visit Canta Napoli Restaurant in Mount Prospect to learn about and enjoy traditional, Italian brick oven pizza,” she adds.

So what do you do for a second course? We have a thriving Italian Club at both East and West, and one of our Italian Club field trips was to an authentic gelateria in Chicago, Caffe Gelato,” she says. That place, she adds, “always reminds me of being in Sicily at the gelateria near my nonna’s house.”

Campsciano Ungaro’s enthusiasm for languages took hold while she attended DePaul. “My undergraduate professors Clara Orban and Gary Cestaro instilled in me the passion to pursue the study and teaching of the Italian language, literature and culture,” she says. Today, she teaches approximately 150 students; at Maine East, she’s solely responsible for the program and at Maine West Campsciano Ungaro is part of two-teacher team. Her experience is extensive, as she’s also taught at Addison Trail High School, Prospect High School, the University of Chicago as a graduate student and Loyola University Chicago as an adjunct faculty member.

She’s also made the news, when Main East hosted teachers and visitors from Pisa. Trib Local covered that event in 2010, and the enthusiasm students reflected in that piece was palpable, a sure sign that Campsciano Ungaro knows how to keep her charges on their toes.

“The challenging part of my job is keeping things new and exciting for the students,” says Campsciano Ungaro. “As a teacher, you have to find strategies that are effective yet engaging. I’m a lifelong learner, so while this is challenging at times, it is also something that I very much enjoy.”

To that end, the teacher gets a little help from her students: “I’m always impressed with the leadership and great ideas my students bring to the table to share their passion with others for the Italian language and culture.”

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.