The Advanced Placement Program for the Italian Language
Matilda Raffa Cuomo
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
was a gratifying accomplishment to enable high school students
to become enriched with the understanding and appreciation
of the Italian language, culture and heritage.
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
Raffa Cuomo is the former first lady of New York State and
is the Founder and Chair of Mentoring USA.
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