Words such as buongiorno and grazie may be as likely to be heard on the streets of Fredericktown as they are on the streets of Rome.
Students at Bethlehem-Center High School are learning a Romance language spoken by millions throughout the world but taught in few high schools in the region.
The Deemston school bolstered its foreign language program this year with the addition of an Italian course that introduces students to the language.
“A lot of our students have Italian-American heritage, so it’s a way to allow them to reconnect with their heritage,” said Thomas Tedrow, Italian teacher at Beth-Center.
Tedrow, who also teaches French at the school, created the class after receiving interest from students, who were aware that the French teacher was fluent in Italian after previously living in Italy and attending a graduate program in Venice.
“The kids knew I studied in Italy, so they asked if I could teach Italian classes. I went back to school and took some refresher courses to get a (teaching) certificate,” said Tedrow.
There was enough interest in the Italian course to warrant two classes, which enroll a total of 43 students.
“This generation (of students) is the first generation of people in this region to learn modern standard Italian,” Tedrow said, explaining that many Italians who immigrated to Pennsylvania in the 19th and early 20th centuries spoke dialects from their home regions.
What makes the course unique, said Tedrow, is that Italian is not taught in many high schools in southwestern Pennsylvania, despite the region being home to a large population of people with Italian ancestry.
While French and Spanish courses are staples of foreign language offerings in most high schools — and some area schools also provide options to take Latin and German courses — Italian is absent from the curricula of schools in the tri-county area of Fayette, Greene and Washington.
“We have a solid language program here at Beth-Center. We’re pretty fortunate that we have three languages, where most schools offer two,” said Tedrow, referring to the school’s French, Italian and Spanish courses.
“I don’t know of any schools in this area that offer Italian. There are a few schools in Pittsburgh, but we are one of very few schools that offer Italian in southwestern Pennsylvania,” he said.
As the program grows, the school will offer four course levels through which students can progress, including high-level honors courses, Tedrow said.
The course has also reached a portion of students who do not typically get the opportunity to take a foreign language. Tedrow has adapted it for the participation of Life Skills students.
Life Skills teacher Megan Ragaller said her nine students have the option to take the course as an elective.
“Before, Life Skills students weren’t included in any of this. It’s never been offered to them. Now they go on all the field trips. It’s great that they get exposed to that,” she said.
Also new at Beth-Center this year to coincide with the Italian course is an Italian Club to celebrate Italian heritage.
Created by junior Olivia Greco, the club has more than 50 members.
“I wanted to start the club because I’m Italian,” said Greco, who is also enrolled in the Italian course. “There’s a lot of clubs for sports and other activities, but this is the only school with this kind of club. It’s cool we can do it at Beth-Center.”
Tedrow plans to organize a trip abroad every two years for students involved in the program. They will be traveling to Paris and Rome in summer 2020.