With visions of zeppole dancing in their heads and Italian songs on their lips, 250 high school students yesterday plunged into the eighth annual Immersion Day in Italian. Sponsored by the Rhode Island Teachers of Italian and the Community College of Rhode Island, the event packaged education about Italian culture, music, movies and food in a breezy format that students enjoyed.
"I love it," said Ken Procaccianti, 17, a Narragansett High School senior. "It's my favorite field trip of the year. I love the language."
Students from St. Mary Academy - Bayview, the Prout School and Bishop Hendricken, Narragansett, Pilgrim, South Kingstown, Warwick Veterans Memorial and West Warwick High Schools spent the morning visiting CCRI Knight campus classrooms arranged to represent different aspects of Italian life.
With CCRI on vacation this week, Rhode Island Teachers of Italian members were able to simulate a school, cinema, museum and food store in classrooms. Students conversed only in Italian, wrote postcards in an Italian post office and bought Italian souvenirs with Italian money provided to them.
The day encourages reading, writing, speaking and listening skills and introduces students to peers from other schools.
"I think it's something pretty unique," said Gigliola Bonomelli, of the education office of the Italian Consulate in Boston, a guest.
"We want to give an opportunity to the students to meet students from other schools," said Maria Mansella, CCRI professor of Italian.
Many CCRI Italian Club members, such as Taylor Lupino, of Attleboro, and Jennifer Barlow, of Warwick, attended on their vacation week and gave the visitors exposure to college students with a passion for the language.
"This is a tremendous opportunity for high school kids to be exposed to this kind of environment," said David Pastore, 41, a CCRI student.
A captain in the West Warwick Fire Department, he is earning his fire science degree. Because his grandparents were from Italy he decided to study the language as one of his electives. He is activities director for the Italian Club, which has visited Ellis Island and dines at Italian restaurants.
One of yesterday's more popular destinations was the music classroom of Greg Gonsalves, who teaches Italian and Spanish at West Warwick High School.
Gonsalves displayed lyrics to "Volare," "Santa Lucia" and "Gloria," sang into microphone and encouraged students to join in and even take over.
Ken Procaccianti did participate for the third year in a row. The outgoing Narragansett senior loved the day's free-wheeling tone and the chance to practice the language he foresees helping him in the future. He plans to major in international relations in college and hopes to get into international business.
"I love it, it's fun," said Chris Mannix, 18, another Narragansett senior who danced while wielding the microphone.
Others, such as Brydie Bernardo, 15, a South Kingstown High School sophomore, were more shy but stepped up anyway.
"It was fun; it was embarrassing but it wasn't that bad," Brydie said. She never sings in public but was inspired by the unusual event. "You get to learn but you're doing it in different ways,' she said. "So it's fun."
Students had to earn stickers in more than a half-dozen classrooms to qualify for an Italian lunch served complete with zeppole, and a raffle of goods donated by area businesses. Winning numbers were called in Italian.
"It's pretty cool," Matt Cubellis, 14, said of the day. The West Warwick High School freshman is from an Italian-American family and looks forward to being able to converse with the natives on his next trip to Italy.
"It's quite a learning experience," said Julie Bentley, 17, a West Warwick High School junior. Her classmate, Kathleen Morelli, 16, agreed. "It's better than just sitting at a desk in school," she said.
Toby Johnson, a Narragansett High School junior, attended as a freshman but found this year's format more enjoyable. "I think it's wonderful," he said. The day enables him to meet another Italian students, he said, and to be exposed o the various styles of teachers.
He plans to go to Italy next spring on a school trip.
"It's a little different," said Joe Turilli, 16, a Bishop Hendricken junior. "It's good. It shows the Italian culture."
His family is of Italian descent and his father speaks the language. Joe went with his class to Italy last year. "It was awesome," he said. "We could speak Italian."
Many other students such as Narragansett juniors Kerry McVey, 17, and Marilynn Turcone, 16, have Italian heritages and the opportunity to visit the country they are studying. Every other year, Narragansett foreign language students alternate a trip to France and Spain with one to Italy.
That is one of the advantages for foreign language students in our shrinking world, said Prof. Anthony DiRuzzo, CCRI chairman of foreign languages. "The access to go visit the country, that's what has changed."