By Linda ThompsonSept. 12 will be a Red Letter Day for Rossella Broglia, Nicoletta De Checchi Mazis, and Maria Maestrini Williamson — it’s the day their master’s thesis paper becomes reality as The Italian American Academy opens to ages 5-10 in rented classrooms at the Jewish Community Center in La Jolla. “The purpose of having the school open for the first year as an Italian-as-a-second-language school, is to gain exposure and build an interest for the second phase of the project, raising funds,” Williamson said. “So far, every investment has come out of our own pockets.”
By 2012, the women plan to execute phase two, which is to operate a fulltime fully bilingual elementary school in San Diego where the entire curriculum will be taught in Italian, largely based on the official program taught in Italian schools.
Williamson called the plan a “bit ambitious,” but admitted a “tight deadline” helps the trio remain focused.
The second phase will require more cash. Their goal is to find a philanthropist to fund the school because grant monies are becoming scarce, and the Italian government declines to fund projects overseas.
According to Williamson, the idea for the school came to her and her colleagues as they worked on their master’s degrees.
“Nicolette, Rossella, and I completed our degrees at the University of Venice in 2010 by defending a thesis that was a comprehensive business plan to start a bilingual elementary school
in San Diego,” she said. “As we were gathering data and conducting our research to write the thesis, we realized we could be on to something.”
Williamson explained The Italian American Academy is a private not-for-profit school with a mission to “merge the rigorous European curriculum with the dynamic American teaching style in a nurturing environment.” Williamson explained the decision to become a private school was reached to avoid the red-tape from state regulations and the federal law “No Child left Behind.”
“There is a lot of uncertainty around the repercussions of the No Child legislation. Some states are obtaining deregulation. The testing system is under scrutiny. We would like for our school to be free of such burdens to be able to focus on a solid academic curriculum,” she said.
The academy will offer two programs to accommodate children at different levels of proficiency — one for the child who is an “absolute beginner,” and one for the child who already speaks Italian. Class size will be limited to 20 students.
The three women have operated as a skeleton crew to carry out the plan. “We joke right now that we are the founders, the board members, the teachers, the staff, and the janitors,” Williamson laughed.
She noted that San Diego State University professor Clarissa Clo will serve as the academic advisor and Laura Galloway will be the academy’s human resource and organizational efficiency director.
However, Williamson credits two others for their volunteer work —graphic designer Carol Carlisle Nuñez and attorney Maxwell Anastopulos.
“I regularly establish charities and other non-profit corporations on a pro bono basis to benefit the community,” Anastopulos said. “I know many in the San Diego Italian community and understand this school will provide an education that is desired by many families. I am pleased that I can help such become available in San Diego.”
Williamson agrees that there is a strong Italian community in town. The trio is working with the Italian Cultural Center of San Diego, where they said they’ve discovered two sets of clients.
“The older generation wants to reconnect to their Italian heritage by learning the language, and that group expresses regret that their parents did not teach them Italian during their youth,” Williamson said. “And, there’s a new wave of Italian immigrants who wish their children had an Italian school to attend.”
The Italian American Academy
Where:Classrooms at Jewish Community Center, 4126 Executive Dr. La Jolla.
When:4-5:30 p.m. Mondays, Thursdays, starting Sept. 12
Tuition:$90 per month, plus $40 annual administration fee. Sibling discounts.