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New York City
September 2003

Synopsis: The Advanced Placement Program for the Italian Language
by Matilda Raffa Cuomo

It was in April of 1987 that Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti invited me to Rome to attend the first conference to promote the Italian language in the United States of America. As Governor of the State of New York, my husband, Mario Cuomo, had established the international partnership program under the Economic Development Corporation to further investments. The economic, cultural and educational exchanges for high school and college students. The program was implemented in many major cities like Beijing, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Madrid and Jerusalem. In Rome, Italy, the initiative was called “Due Case Una Tradizione.” I was appointed co-chair of the Due Case initiative with Mr. Vincent Tese, Chairman and CEO of the Economic Development Corporation.

With Due Case and the NYS Education Department, we successfully arranged exchanges between NYS and Italy for high school and college students as well as school administrators. Another positive outcome of Due Case was its collaboration with New York State’s Fashion Institute of Technology to open an annex to the Institute in Florence for NYS students. There, the students learned from masters of design like Giorgio Armani and Valentino.

In 1992, for the Christopher Columbus quincentenary, we developed the cultural heritage curriculum with the Italian government: “Looking Back—Moving Forward.” We also developed a cultural heritage curriculum with the Spanish government. These curricula were to be utilized in the classrooms and were distributed free to all private and public schools in NYS.

Through the years, there were many unsuccessful attempts by various groups to attain the Advanced Placement (AP) program for the Italian language. However, in the meantime, the Italian Consulate in the United States persisted in encouraging regional community groups and elementary schools to further the teaching of the Italian language. As a result, many regional and community programs designed to promote the Italian language were developed in the Northeast.

In 1999, after many long discussions with Dr. Vittoria Cifone, Director of the Education Office of the Italian Consulate in New York City, and Consul General Giorgio Radicati, I was convinced that since 1987 the impediment to promoting the Italian language effectively had been the lack of an AP program for the Italian language for high school students. Other foreign languages, including Spanish, French, German and Latin, offered AP programs for college credit, but no similar recognition was given to the Italian language.

With the guidance of Dr. Cifone, an essential meeting of prominent Italian teachers from the American Association of Teachers of Italian (AATI) and the president of AATI, Dr. Christopher Kleinhenz, would convene in New York City to discuss a plan for acquiring the AP program. I planned the first meeting at the Italian Consulate with Consul General Giorgio Radicati to discuss our mission with Frank Guarini, president of the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF), and Fred Rotondaro, former executive director. NIAF sponsored this initial national AATI meeting to develop the proposal for the AP Program in Italian for high school students, which was approved by the College Board.

Unfortunately, Dr. Cifone was called back to Italy; her service at the Consulate had ended. With my daughter Margaret’s encouragement and input, a plan was formulated for the AP program by recruiting the leadership of all the major national Italian American organizations. Frank Guarini, Chairman of NIAF; Robert Messa, President of the Order Sons of Italy in America (OSIA), represented by Executive Director Phil Piccigallo and First Vice President Joe Sciame; John Alati, President of UNICO National; Dolores Mita of AATI, my daughter Margaret Cuomo Maier, M.D., and I met with Dr. Lee Jones, executive director of the College Board in New York City, which had final approval of the AP program. Dr. Lee Jones suggested that I chair this committee to accomplish our goal of an AP program for the Italian language. We were given the immense task of acquiring 500 high schools in the United States to teach the Italian language and $500,000 for the College Board to sponsor the AP program. All of this had to be accomplished within four months, when the College Board trustees would meet again.

This was a great challenge. The united front of the three organizations—NIAF, OSIA and UNICO National—invigorated the campaign. These three Italian American organizations, for the first time, became unified behind a single mission—their staff participated vigorously to acquire the 500 high schools across the country.

After I communicated our mission and its importance to the Italian officials in Italy, they cooperated enthusiastically. Minister Mirko Tremaglia and Prime Minister Berlusconi made a financial commitment to the program, as did the three national organizations.

The national network proved successful. It’s a joy to thank my daughter Margaret for her full-time dedication and daily sacrifice, which proved crucial to our success. In fact, inspired by her efforts with the AP program, Margaret continued to promote the Italian language in the United States by working with Christine Schulze, executive director of Concordia Language Villages in Minnesota. There were twelve foreign language villages at Concordia with an international reputation for excellence—but no Italian village had ever been established. It is spectacular that within two years she persevered to establish “Lago del Bosco,” and the two-week Italian language immersion session has begun this summer. Funds and student scholarships have already been generously donated by UNICO National, NIAF and the Columbus Citizen’s Foundation.

On June 20, 2003, Dr. Lee Jones called to give me the good news that the College Board unanimously voted approval for the AP program for the Italian language. This is a stunning achievement! Now that the AP approval has been accomplished, we must begin the preparation of the AP exam, the participation of the 500 schools and the need for more Italian language teachers. The AATI will help immensely in this capacity.

It was a gratifying accomplishment to enable high school students to become enriched with the understanding and appreciation of the Italian language, culture and heritage.

Languages open doors that lead to the past and to the future. With the establishment of the AP course in Italian, and the College Board’s plan for a Global Language package, our nation’s students will be encouraged to appreciate and respect their own heritage and culture, as well as the heritage and culture of those in their communities. They will be able to look back into the literature and traditions of their own families, or the families of their neighbors. At the same time they will equip themselves to forge ahead into new travels, new conversations, and new relationships.#

Matilda Raffa Cuomo is the former first lady of New York State and is the Founder and Chair of Mentoring USA.


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