June 27, 2022
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Nella comunità: Collaboration links Italian class, UE schools

Students in instructor Rachel Samiani's Intermediate Italian class give a presentation at Union-Endicott High School. Students in instructor Rachel Samiani's Intermediate Italian class give a presentation at Union-Endicott High School.
Students in instructor Rachel Samiani's Intermediate Italian class give a presentation at Union-Endicott High School. Image Credit: provided photo.

To learn a language, you must speak it with others. But to truly deepen your understanding, become a teacher yourself.

Binghamton University students in instructor Rachel Samiani’s intermediate Italian course are doing just that, while giving back to the larger community. This semester, they are working with Italian classes at Union-Endicott Central High School and Jennie F. Snapp Middle School in a variety of ways, helping both cohorts deepen their understanding of Italian language and culture.

“The (UE) students are very shy, but my students were very excited to interact with them,” said Samiani, a Union-Endicott alumna herself.

First, the Binghamton students polled their Union-Endicott counterparts to determine their interests, which allowed them to shape the topics they introduced during exercises and in-person interactions. Individual research followed on topics such as Italian immigrants in Endicott, which students then discussed and turned into presentation materials, explained Agamya Rao, a first-year graphic design major.

As part of the collaboration, Samiani’s students created Italian newscasts using Zoom backgrounds — complete with commercials — along with a Harry Potter-themed newspaper with articles on current events, food and entertainment in Italy. They also compiled vocabulary lists and questions for the Union-Endicott students to improve their reading comprehension.

“This recording was a great opportunity for the students to learn more about what’s going on in Italy right now and immerse themselves in the language and culture more,” said Sofia Ruggiero, a sophomore biology major. “It was also a great experience for our class for the same reasons.”

In-person events are part of the collaboration, too. First, the Binghamton students visited Union-Endicott High School to discuss Italian study at the University, the history of Italian immigrants in Broome County and the differences between Italian and Italian-American culture, said William Held, a senior chemistry major.

Later, they helped a Jennie F. Snapp Middle School Spanish class make empanadas during Foreign Language Week, since their class schedule didn’t coincide with the school’s Italian class. The Binghamton students drew on that experience to later create a presentation for middle school students comparing Spanish and Italian cuisines.

Held particularly enjoyed putting together the learning materials, which helped him broaden his own knowledge base and language skills.

“As an Italian student, this class has made me more proficient. I feel like I’d definitely get by fine if I went to Italy tomorrow,” he said. “The collaborative work also taught me about teaching, such as preparing lessons, building rapport with and engaging students.”

Nel Futuro

K-12 schools don’t typically offer Italian; UE High School teacher Amalia Roma-Circensi believes her district may be the only one in the county to offer the language, probably owing to Endicott’s active Italian community.

Both Roma-Circensi and Celia Randesi-Temple, who teaches seventh-grade Spanish and eighth-grade Italian at Jennie F. Snapp, are enthusiastic about the partnership with Samiani’s class and would like to see it continue. Ideas for the future include tutoring sessions, movie and cultural days, trips, Italian karaoke and more.

“This is a great opportunity for our students to have a direct connection with a university community, and with a group of young people who study Italian language and culture,” Roma-Circensi said.

Their students genuinely enjoy the experience, both the chance to connect in person and engage with the presentations, broadcast and newspaper Samiani’s class created.

“They think it’s ‘cool’ to have older kids take interest in them,” Randesi-Temple said. “My students loved being able to converse in Italian with someone other than myself and put their language skills to use in real life.”

Samiani’s students enjoyed the community service element and the opportunity to become mentors. But the projects also brought the classmates themselves closer together, creating a welcoming and friendly classroom environment while building confidence in their own abilities as Italian speakers.

“I think the most challenging part is building up the confidence to share what you’ve learned. Even if we are all proficient in Italian, it does take an extra edge to be able to comfortably converse and present in a completely different language,” Rao said. “However, this challenge only proves to strengthen our speaking abilities and demonstrate what we know.”

Posted in: Arts & Culture, Harpur