Emphasis on Italian-language classes in Montreal schools
Italian-language classes are coming to more elementary schools across the English Montreal School Board (EMSB) this year thanks to a partnership with the Centro Scuola Dante Alighieri di Montreal (CESDA).
The EMSB and CESDA, a nonprofit, signed an agreement on June 5 to expand an existing program of Italian-language classes offered during school hours.
The school board currently offers Italian language instruction to elementary school students in two ways. At four schools – East Hill in Rivière-des-Prairies as well as Dante, General Vanier and Pierre de Coubertin in Saint-Leonard – all students take Italian class as part of the regular school day, which CESDA is involved in. Moreover, at select schools with a large number of Italian-Canadian students, the board offers Italian classes at lunch or after school through the Programme d’enseignement des langues d’origine (PELO) as an option for students who want to better understand their cultural heritage.
Sylvia Lo Bianco, vice-chairman of the EMSB, says that as part of the agreement the school board hopes to increase the offering of Italian classes for students in PELO schools, including: Cedarcrest, Dalkeith, Dunrae Gardens, Edinburgh, Edward Murphy, Gardenview, Gerald McShane, Honoré Mercier, John Paul, Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Nesbitt, Our Lady of Pompei, Pierre Elliott Trudeau and St. Dorothy. “Language is a richness,” says Lo Bianco. “The more languages you know, the richer you are as an individual.”
Lo Bianco estimates that about 2,000 students are learning Italian either through the integrated or PELO platform, but the EMSB hopes to soon reach even more children. “Our goal is to ensure we increase the number of schools that will have Italian,” she said.
As part of the agreement, CESDA pays for the instruction books, the classes and the Italian language teachers. It will also be a point of reference for the EMSB if the board needs to hire additional teachers, says Lo Bianco.
The curriculum for the Italian classes comes from the pedagogical department of the Italian Consulate General, which is connected to Italy’s ministry of education. That department also helps to ensure teachers are properly qualified, Lo Bianco explains. “The partnership will bring our integrated Italian teaching to a new level,” she says.
Carmine D’Argenio, CESDA’s president, says the organization works with accredited Italian teachers (most of them from Italy and now living in Montreal) who have experience teaching Italian privately or through the government. He said CESDA has about 10 teachers in Montreal schools and could give them more work hours to accommodate the demands of the new agreement. The organization also has Italian classes at Terry Fox Elementary School in Laval.
Funding for Italian-language classes in English Montreal schools previously came directly from the Italian government until about six years ago when it significantly reduced funding, D’Argenio says. For three years, the
Italian-Canadian Community Foundation financed the project to keep it going, CESDA was then created by D’Argenio, and community organizers Giovanni Rapana and Silvio De Rose, to maintain it. Italy’s ministry of education currently contributes between 20,000 and 40,000 euros per year to help fund the CESDA program.
The Canadian government recently gave CESDA charitable status, which D’Argenio says will allow them to fundraise to support the program.
Learning another language has cognitive benefits. Studies have shown speaking two or more languages improves brain function and memory and can help stave off Alzheimer’s or dementia.
Italian’s similarity to languages like French and Spanish could also help students improve other languages they already know or are learning, D’Argenio said. “The more languages you learn or understand the better adapted you can be in the world and in everything you do.”
D’Argenio is confident that the language classes will encourage Italian-Montrealers to develop a deeper connection to their culture and heritage. “Italy is a lot more than just pizza and coffee and soccer,” he says. “By teaching them the language, giving them a bit of history, a bit of geography, it will keep them connected to what Italy really is.”