Blog by: Cavaliere Linda “Lyn” Scolaro, for Italian Language Foundation ~ Professor Scolaro has been teaching Italian for 38 years at Chicago’s Mt. Prospect High School and Mother Guerin High School.  She is Co-President of the American Association of Teachers of Italian-Midwest, VP K-12 of the AATI National and is on the Development Committee for the AP Italian Exam. She has been to Italy 44 times, 36 with her students. Lyn’s AP Italian Class was awarded a $100,000 grant from the Frantoi Redoro in Grezzana (Verona).

Students of the Redefining Ready Project!

Vieni con me, Join me on my incredible journey of Redefining Ready! In 2015, Township High School District 214 in Chicago, IL where I have taught for 29 years, partnered with The School Superintendents Association (AASA) to assess how career ready and life ready were our students. 

This extraordinary experience led to a change in the studies of Italian and Career Pathways (Mt. Prospect, in NW suburbs of Chicago). With the creation of several wonderful relationships with members of our community, and discussions regarding the aspirations and goals of my students, I was able to give new meaning to “Redefining Ready.”

          I believe world languages are the key to many successful career pathways.  Traditionally, students learned a world language to get into college and later continued on to a four-year program with the goal to earn college credits through their high school comprehensive program and/or the Advanced Placement Exam.  However, the focus in high school education has changed and preparing students for their career pathways post higher education is now the targeted goal. Through Redefining Ready, our district engages in ways in which students would be prepared for careers through non-traditional learning activities and participation in their industry interests beyond shadowing and volunteering.

Olive Lesson: History and Tasting

           As a teacher of Italian studies, when I was approached to initiate Redefining Ready in my classroom, what did I think?  Initially….IMPOSSIBLE!  While easy to do in science classes, math, political science, and most other disciplines, how could I possibly include career pathways in an Italian class where students’ future ambitions and intentions were medicine, marketing, public relations, and so many other career pathways.  For every student in my class, there was a plethora of career goals. While I have always been a “team player” and I have given each new district initiative my very best efforts, I knew this one would not be in my “comfort zone.” 

How did that change?  So, let’s rewind about 12 years or so.  During my 38-year career as the Italian teacher (9-years at Mother Guerin High School and 29-years at Prospect High School in District 214) one of my goals was to “practice what I teach” in my classes.  I have always made it a point to either bring La Bell’Italia, beautiful Italy, into my classroom or to bring my students to it.  Whether it was activities, events, or service learning in the Italian American community or even a trip to Italy, I made it a point to be sure the students learned how the Italian language is born of its culture and not the culture as a result of the language. 

Fast track to Prospect High School, after almost 20+ hotel trips (what I called them), two weeks from the Alps to Capri, Italy, I made the choice to give my students a real-life experience of living with an Italian family. (Thank you, Dorina Spiering, my high school teacher, mentor and friend, for your recommendation!)   With that, the Verona, Italy exchange was born and “La Dolce Vita” that my students and their families knew, would change forever.

Through my newly formed relationship with business-owners in Verona, Italy, and a very generous grant from Redoro, very successful Italian olive oil company, an exciting partnership was born.

Daniele Salvagno, one of the owners of Redoro and my long-time friend Claudio Balasso, both from Verona, introduced me to the idea of creating cultural exchanges with their beloved city of Verona.   I wanted a heritage experience for my students through exchanges rather than a tourist experience. We visited all of the local art, architectural, and artisanal treasures of Verona.   Daniele Salvagno of Redoro had a vision to promote healthy eating and healthy skin care through excellent quality olive oil, as well as, raising awareness of olive oils from northern Italian Frantoi, or mills. 

           Daniele told me about his vision and offered a $100,000 grant over three years and one of two shipments of Redoro Olive Oil (Traditional, Biologico/Organic, and DOP).  While composing myself over the shock, I began to panic just a bit.  What would I do?  I knew nothing about launching and managing a project of that scope and magnitude.

              A wonderful new project had just landed on my lap and I couldn’t turn it down.  So I began to think of my AP Italian students for the following year and what their aspirations and career studies would be beyond high school.  I knew I had students interested in marketing, business, health care, biological engineering, and education.  I knew that a key component of this grant needed to include college scholarships and authentic internship experiences.  I began to discuss my ideas with Daniele who expressed enthusiasm for them.  He knew of my work and that Claudio had assured him, if anyone could do this it would be me. He gave me full control of the project to take place over three years.  Claudio would be the liaison between me and Redoro.  I had my work cut out for me!

                  I returned to my B&B and began to try to explain “what I kept thinking was a dream” to my colleague/chaperone who was also the assistant principal at my school. My assistant principal had confidence in my ability to offer this extraordinary opportunity to my students.  He continued to reassure me that this grant would open more opportunities in world languages.  I texted my Principal and a few key industry professionals to inform them we were about to embark into uncharted waters with this exciting new project.  When I returned home, I introduced this project to the juniors who would enter next year’s AP course. This would be a life-transforming educational adventure!  Oh, I also needed to explain it to all of my administrators and the district Superintendent.  Without hesitation, the answer was “go for it”.

The students learned to do formal tastings that would eventually lead a few students to certify vats of oil, as well as informal tastings. 

               I needed a plan if I was to lead this ambitious project.  I spent the rest the school year engaging in conversations with professionals.  I reached out to my local pizzaiolo friend (a pizzaiolo is an authentic pizza chef), and my brother who was involved in everything from entertainment to food preparation to knowing what it takes to run an empire.  Both would later become my right hand and partners.  It was essential to educate the students regarding the importance of olive oil in one’s life from diet to skin care and the history and integrity of Redoro’s 100-year-old family olive mill.   We needed “Olive Class” of course!  And so, I began to make arrangements to have Claudio Basso and Marco, Daniele’s nephew, to come to Prospect High School to train the students.  The class was amazing.  Both men engaged the students in the history of the olive beginning with its roots among the Greek Gods to the various types of presses.  The students learned to do formal tastings that would eventually lead a few students to certify vats of oil, as well as informal tastings.  Together we began to discuss their individual career choices and to organize the students into career pathway groups.  Each group created a goal and brainstormed ways to reach the goal. 

              It was decided that the students would spend the year researching and in the end each group would present to the Redoro family while visiting Italy,  and then at the end of the school year, a presentation would be made to our American industrial and professional partners who would then award the top four students a $1,000 college scholarship.  It was also decided that two students, building to four each year, would return to Verona in the summer to live with a family, study Italian at Idea Verona, and work at Redoro including a $3,000 scholarship for each student.

We were given full permission to create our own logo combining Redoro’s original logo with our cavaliere, the Prospect Knight.  I provided the students with apparel for events and tastings.  The students would begin preparing promotional materials and professional portfolios.  The next steps were getting the word out to promote the product and, most importantly, the work of these amazing students.

           To say that our olive oil project captured the interest of our school and community is an understatement. We were the”talk of the town!”

            The Redefining Ready experience with my students of AP Italian was truly a life-transforming experience for me, and for my students. Because my students had studied Italian for several years, and were advanced students of Italian, they were able to immerse themselves in this cultural and language-based project. The experience allowed me to greatly expand my managerial and organizational skills. It was an unforgettable educational and pedagogic adventure.