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Over the course of the past ten years, the demand for Italian language and culture courses expressed by the American society has steadily grown. This strong interest is shared not only by the large American communities of Italian descent, but also by the American community at large.

The teaching of Italian language in the local school systems in particular has proved to be a successful experience in the United States. The most recent surveys from the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL 2002) in middle and high schools show Italian as the only foreign language – besides Spanish – with a significant increase in the number of students (+38% compared to the past 10 years).
According to the most recent data, more than 70,000 students take Italian courses in grades 9-12, an increase of 60% compared to the data from 1990.

The Modern Language Association survey conducted in 2006 at the University level confirms the same growth trend in students’ enrollment for all Italian courses. Among the seven major modern languages, Italian has constantly maintained its fourth place after Spanish, French and German, increasing in registration for courses and in the number of degrees granted in Italian Studies.
These important results at both the high school and college level have been made possible thanks to the significant increase in the number of Italian language students at the elementary and middle school level in the American school system.
The financial contributions allocated by the Italian government over the past 10 years for the promotion of the Italian language in the U.S., certainly played a key role in contributing to the implementation of  K-8 Italian language programs in the U.S. school system.
The Italian Government, in fact,  provides funds each year for the teaching of Italian language programs in the public and private school system, specifically earmarked for students in grades K-8.
These funds are distributed through local non for profit organizations or Enti Gestori, whose mission is to promote Italian language in their regions.
These organizations work in close collaboration with the Education Offices within the Italian Consulates and are subject to the direction and monitoring of the 8 Educational Directors attached to the Italian Consulates throughout the United States.  

The support of the Italian Government for the promotion of the Italian language includes also the network of the 5 Italian Cultural Institutes in the United States and the Italian K-12 school in New York City.
The Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs also appoints lecturers of Italian, who are assigned to various U.S. Universities to teach Italian and to help promote the Italian culture in the United States. Currently there are 9 lecturers employed in U.S. Universities * (Enclosure1)  

A Strategic Role: the 8 Italian Educational Directors/Dirigenti Scolastici

Eight Education Offices are currently attached to the 8 consular jurisdictions of Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles and Miami, New York, San Francisco, and Washington DC. The mandate of the School Supervisors, Italian professionals from the Italian Ministry of Education, is very broad.

  • Following the directions of the Consular Authorities, designing plans to promote and implement Italian language programs in each Consular jurisdiction
  • Building relationships with the local Education Authorities at all levels, from State to County to schools
  • Advocating to local communities, parents, and associations
  • Establishing relationships with the non-profit organizations, closely monitoring and supervising the activities carried out with the financial contributions of the Italian Government
  • Reporting and planning for future developments of these activities
  • Promoting and organizing professional development seminars and courses for Italian teachers, in collaboration with non-profit organizations, Italian and American Universities
  • Coordinating and supervising the teaching of Italian language for all grades, including curriculum design, activities and evaluation procedures, and by advising on appropriate course materials and textbooks.

The efforts of the Education Offices are crucial to the success of the promotion of Italian language in the United States.  The 8 Education Offices monitor and supervise the Enti Gestori in their consular jurisdictions: thanks to the combined efforts of the Education Offices and the Enti Gestori over the course of the past five years the number of courses implemented and the number of students enrolled in Italian classes have shown  continuous growth. In the year 1998 the total number of courses established by the Enti gestori in the U.S. was 1850 (K-8 students and adults), the total number of students 37,000 and the number of Italian teachers employed in these courses was 298. For the year 2007 the figures are the following: courses = 3766, students = 70249,  teachers = 847.  

The Role of the Non Profit Organizations or “Enti Gestori”

The financial contributions of the Italian Government are channeled through the Enti Gestori, non profit organizations dedicated to the promotion of the Italian language and culture in the United States. In most cases these organizations were established through the efforts of Italian citizens residing in the United States, and/or of Americans of Italian descent. The Enti Gestori apply each year to the competent Italian Consulates in their jurisdictions in order to receive grants from the Italian Government to support the Italian language programs. During the 2006-2007 school year, 20 Enti Gestori throughout the United States have received financial contribution by the Italian government.  In the year 2007 the Italian Government distributed to the “Enti Gestori” in the United States a total amount of € 2,200,000.00

Over the last few years most Enti Gestori have shifted the focus of their mission from after school courses, to courses integrated in the school curricula. Their major goal has gradually become the implementation of elementary school courses, with the aim of creating a continuum curriculum in the learning process from the elementary level all the way through college. The response has been very positive: more and more courses of Italian language have been integrated into the programs of entire school districts in various States comprised in the Italian consular jurisdictions over the course of the last five years.

The Enti Gestori, together with the Italian School Offices, set up agreements with single schools and districts and, in some cases, with the State Departments of Education, in order to establish new Italian language programs, and to provide teacher training activities and resource centers for Italian teachers. The Enti gestori also provide and assign Italian teachers to schools, and they contribute funding towards the Italian programs in the various schools, (teachers’ salaries, text books and other materials).
The Enti gestori support teachers’ training activities as well, in cooperation with the Education Offices of the Consulates and with well known Italian and American Universities.

Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) in Place in the U.S.

Eleven agreements (MOUs) are currently in place between the Italian Consulates and the  local school authorities at state and county level, in collaboration with  Enti Gestori  These Agreements define mutual commitments of the parties related to establishing Italian language programs in the local school system of the State or County concerned, provide widespread information on the support available from the Italian Authorities to implement these programs, and set up resource centers for training teachers of Italian.

Italian Authorities are committed to working towards the goal of entering into more agreements of this sort in the U.S. in order to consolidate the results achieved so far and to further promote the teaching of Italian in the U.S. school system

Federal and State Grants

The outstanding success in the promotion of the Italian language in American schools over the last few years was also due to the considerable support from various US Authorities, including grants from the Federal and State bodies. Starting from the year 1999, Federal grants have been obtained by school districts in the Boston, Chicago and Washington area.  These success stories clearly demonstrate the commitment of US authorities to supporting the teaching of foreign languages in their schools.  

The Advanced Placement Program in Italian

 Another outstanding result is the College Board’s approval, in June 2003, of the development of an Advanced Placement Course and Examination for Italian, which will raise Italian at the same prestigious level as that of other foreign languages such as Spanish, French, German and Latin.

In 2003 more than one million high school students participated in the College Board’s Advanced Placement Program, each student taking one or more of the program’s 34 college-level AP courses. Based on their performance on the rigorous AP examinations, students earn credit or advanced placement for college.  

The first AP Italian courses have been offered in American high schools in the Fall of 2005, and the first exams will be taken in May of 2006.  The AP Italian course and exam is expected to represent the equivalent of third-year college study of the language and is designed to help prepare students to demonstrate their level of Italian proficiency in the four language skill areas: reading, writing, listening and speaking, as well as their knowledge of certain aspects of Italian culture.

This amazing result would not have been possible without the financial support of the Italian Government, which contributed to the creation and the adoption of the A.P. Program in Italian with  € 345,000.00 in the year 2003. In addition the three major Italian American organizations in the U.S., the National Italian American Foundation, The Order Sons of Italy in America and Unico National contributed another $200,000.00 towards the A.P. program.

The 8 Education Offices are currently working together in order to establish a network of all the schools offering the A.P. Italian program throughout the U.S, providing them with updated information about A.P. professional trainings, as well as  A.P. course and exam  development.