Most students don’t know where foreign languages fit in to their careers, albeit they recognize the beauty a foreign culture in its food, history, art, monuments, people, etc. Students are attracted to these aspects, yet they are driven by ideas and innovation. They wish to pursue transformational experiences in their academic preparation that will make them ready for college and prospective careers.
To this end, Lyn Scolaro, teacher of Italian at Prospect High School, in the suburbs of Chicago, presented her 13 AP (advanced placement) students with a unique internship opportunity that directly links language learning to the business world. A partnership reached with Verona-based olive oil company Redoro will see a commitment of $100,000 over the next three years to fund internships and provide students with authentic, hands-on experiences to research and market the olive oil company’s products to the Chicago area.
We spoke with Lyn Scolaro, a seasoned teacher of 36 years, who’s tireless efforts have grown the Italian program at Prospect HS that in 1990 had 42 students to current enrollments of approximately 225. Without a doubt, the growth of this program is a direct result of the commitment of this outstanding and dynamic teacher. In addition to serving on local and state educational and Italian committees, she also has a voice in national organizations as advisor to the AP College Board and vice-president K-12 of the American Association of Teachers of Italian.
This is an incredible opportunity for your AP students. How did this partnership come about?
“It was literally handed to us… like an olive branch. My friend, Claudio Balasso, who led a previous exchange program we had with the Dal Cero secondary school, told me a friend wanted to meet me when I took our AP students to Verona in March 2016. At the very first meeting in Verona with the president of the olive oil company, Daniele Salvagno, I began to think about how I would implement this into my class. I began to think of my students and what their career paths were. I started to jot down my ideas on a napkin (actually, many napkins). I wasn’t prepared for a ‘business type’ meeting. That evening, I went back to my B&B and wrote out the entire project specifications. Never in my wildest dreams, did I know that this project would be the end result of that meeting.”
You mention your students’ career paths. How does the project address which career they will pursue?
“Students work in groups according to different aspects of the business. There are seven distinct areas they are investigating: the cultivation of the olive and the process from tree to oil; the environmental issues associated with the olives’ remains after they are pressed; marketing through tastings and promotions; marketing using social networks; economics of importing to the U.S. and laws of supply and demand and price points; the cosmetics sector of the company; and cooking understanding the different oils and the health benefits. As you can see, the range of disciplines in this project are varied and appeal to diverse career goals.”
What has been your students’ response to the project? What have they done so far?
“Students were enthusiastic from the start. I spoke to all the AP students individually, and they were ‘stoked’ about this hands-on experience and taking on specific tasks on the aspect they’re investigating. Students have created social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. They have already had their training in olive oil tasting and sampling and in mid August already hosted their first tastings in the community.
But it’s not just about the business of making money. Students used the products to engage in fundraising efforts for earthquake victims of Amatrice. With Elio Pizza on Fire in Addison, all proceeds from the sale of olive oil samples and Elio’s Nutella pizza went to earthquake relief. A similar fundraiser was done at the school for staff members that included a tasting and sale. To date, $1,100 has been raised.”
Have students had an opportunity to work directly with Redoro?
“In August students had their training with Redoro where they learned about the history of olive oil, its significance in history, how olive oil is made, how to professionally taste olive oil and distinguishing characteristics of better olive oils.
During the annual exchange study abroad program that we’ve being doing for 10 years now (previously it was an educational tour) in which students are paired with an Italian student who hosts them during their stay, we will be spending a day at Redoro (in Grezzana, Verona) so students can finalize their projects, take pictures, and see, first hand and behind the scenes, all that they have learned.
To conclude the course, students will pitch their project ideas in both Italian and English to a panel of five experts, including the president of Redoro and Italian business members of our community, who will select the top four students to be awarded a $1,000 scholarship. We are also very fortunate to have other sponsors who support this initiative to whom we are grateful, Ron Onesti of Onesti Entertainment, Elio Bartolotta of Elio Pizza on Fire, Bob Nasshan of Gonella Baking Company, and Iron Chef America judge Mario Rizzotti.
And it doesn’t stop when school ends. There will also be summer internships for 5-6 students. We hope to use the grant monies to provide students with airfare, room and board (in a home), and classes at the University of Illinois-Champaign’s campus in Verona. After classes in the morning, they will head out to Redoro to continue their work for a month in the summer of 2017.”
How did you integrate this collaboration into your pre-existing curriculum?
“I have always believed in teaching Italian in ways that make sense to students and that are applicable to them whether they are of Italian descent or ‘Italian by choice.’ It’s important to teach Italian as a way of life and not through only grammar and vocabulary. I also believe it’s crucial for students to understand their place in a global society while in high school using their critical thinking skills to form opinions and goals for life.
The project goals align with what I’ve been teaching all along the only difference being that now there are concrete outcomes, the authentic life experiences that integrate the collaboration of local and international businesses. Additionally, our District has taken the lead in making a shift for high school students to prepare them for college and career readiness and life experience readiness. When the students leave high school they are told they don’t need the language. But they do! Former students of mine have been awarded excellent internships and jobs because of Italian. This is a reminder that languages are indispensable in a global economy.”
This partnership with Redoro will continue until 2019. Are you thinking about your next big project?
“My retirement is in my horizon in June of 2020. I wanted to do my part now. About 90% of my students study Italian because of the excellent reputation the program has and the various outside of the classroom experiences provided to them. I will do my best to ensure kids see that Italian doesn’t end after high school.”
This partnership between Redoro and Prospect High School reminds us that it makes sense (and also dollars and cents) to study Italian!