Language Profiles

Fate guides Pezzella-Bonasera toward Italian

If not for a pair of fateful coincidences, Mariangela Pezzella-Bonasera might be working in the corporate world rather than pursuing a flourishing career teaching Italian 1, 2, 3 and AP at Wheeling High School. During her undergraduate years at Dominican University, she was studying international business and Italian when she took part in a marketing internship at the Sorrento Lingue (a language institute) in Italy. She finished her project ahead of schedule and got an assignment she wasn’t expecting — to teach English to Italian teens. “I actually fell in love with it and had a great time,” she says. “I …

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Guttilla finds her voice by teaching Italian

On the first day of class, high school teacher Roberta Guttilla asks her new students why they want to learn Italian, and loves to hear their answers. “They tell me all these different stories,” Guttilla says. “They fell in love with the culture, they visited Italy once, they want to major in Italian in college. Or they say, ‘My great grandparents were Italian and never passed on the language to us.’” Guttilla is an Italian instructor at York Community High School in Elmhurst, where this year she’s teaching five classes of different levels. She is also certified to teach Spanish …

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Costa doubles down, teaching religion, Italian

After nearly three decades of teaching religion, Roberto Costa has a simple replay whenever people mention retirement. “I say, ‘What are you talking about?’” reports the 57-year-old Costa, who has master’s degrees in divinity and theology. “I am very passionate about what I do, and I want to continue doing it.” Born in Turate, in Italy’s Lombardy region, Costa moved to Chicago at age 23 to study at Catholic Theological Union. After graduation, he ended up staying permanently in the Windy City, where he met his wife, Sandra Hou, who was born in Burma (now Myanmar) and grew up in …

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Casa instructor Giovanna “Jackie” Dimetros

It only seems like Casa Italia’s popular language and cuisine instructor, Giovanna “Jackie” Dimetros, is leading a double life. Some people know her as Giovanna and others as Jackie, she has inexplicably English and Greek surnames, and people aren’t certain whether she’s a cooking or Italian teacher or both. But she is in fact one delightful Italian-born Chicagoan who integrates all these identities. The story begins during World War II. An American Army officer, Major Jack Spears, a Chicago native stationed in Tuscany, fell in love with his future wife Miranda in the town of Livorno. After they married, they …

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Linguistic entrepreneur Gianluca Butticè

When Gianluca Butticè moved from his native Sicily to the U.S., he faced the challenges of learning English and American culture. Surmounting that learning curve inspired him to make the journey easier for others. So after spending the past several years teaching Italian, he is branching out into offering tours of Italy that encompass language and culture in a mutually enhancing way. “I know the doors that are opened when you learn a new language,” he says, explaining that traveling, learning the culture of a country and learning the language can all reinforce each other. Butticè, 41, believes everything he …

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Addison Trail instructor Judie Vitiritti-Lynch

At a recent awards banquet, Judie Vitiritti-Lynch was so engaged in talking to her former students that she didn’t hear the emcee announce her name. A colleague prompted her to walk up to the podium, because she had won the Italian Consulate in Chicago’s first-ever Midwest Award for Leadership in the Teaching of the Italian Language and Culture. “I was stunned, because I was up against some very good people, and everyone was so deserving,” recalls Vitiritti-Lynch, who became Addison Trail High School’s first Italian language teacher in the early 1990s and pioneered the program. In her first year, she …

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Adult language instructor Kathryn Occhipinti

Growing up in an Italian-American family, Kathryn Occhipinti experienced the Italian food, the emphasis on togetherness and the practicing of the Catholic faith. But she felt one piece of her heritage was missing: the language. Her grandparents and parents would converse in Italian, making it even more of a mysterious to her. After completing her medical training, she spent years studying the language, writing books and teaching classes in conversational Italian. She gears her efforts toward adult learners with a desire to travel to Italy. “Today, people are trying to understand where they came from, and the language was really …

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Dist. 214 administrator Angela Briguglio Hawkins

  An Italian teacher and administrator in northwest suburban High School District 214, Angela Briguglio Hawkins was known as “the American” when she was growing up in Sicily. That’s because she was born in Oak Park, but her parents decided to move the family back to their native Sicily when Briguglio Hawkins was two-and-a-half years old. They missed their relatives. “I did all my schooling in Italy, up until the equivalent of the first year in high school,” she says. “But then my dad was worried about the lack of economic opportunity in Europe, so my parents moved back to …

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Rolling Meadows instructor Antonino Bondi

  Spending every summer of his childhood in Sicily convinced Antonino Bondi that he wanted a career somehow related to Italy. He never pictured himself as a teacher in those days, but he has realized his dream in a classroom. Bondi, 31, the son of parents who immigrated from Sicily to Chicago in the 1970s, teaches Italian 2, 3 and 4 in northwest suburban Township High School District 214. He starts his day teaching at Rolling Meadows High School, and then travels to Prospect High School in Mount Prospect to teach in the afternoons. For someone who spoke the Sicilian …

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East Leyden instructor Michele Curley

Michele Curley’s love of languages and cultures started at age 14. That’s when her grandmother, Filomena Conversano Pesano, who at 17 had left Basilicata and journeyed alone to the United States, decided to take Michele, her five siblings and her parents back to Basilicata. “It was a really transformative experience,” Curley, an Italian teacher at East Leyden High School, says of the month-long visit. They met relatives, took road trips around southern Italy, returned to Basilicata and then went north to Rome, Florence, Pisa and Venice. When they returned to the Chicago area, Curley wanted to take Italian when she …

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