By LEIGH C. MERRIFIELD
News & Journal Editor
People from all over the world learn the English language.
In fact, people from Latin America, Asia, and Europe learn English as their second language at a very early age! And because so many people worldwide speak English so fluently, many people who use English as their main language feel there is no need to learn a foreign language.
However, for high school students who plan to further their education, they need two years of a foreign language to be admitted to a West Virginia institution of high learning. And according to Mrs. Diane Wickland, a certified foreign language teacher now teaching Italian at Lincoln High School, many out of state colleges and universities require three years of the same foreign language as a prerequisite,
Mrs. Wickland was called this year to be a permanent sub at Lincoln High School. Now in her 34th year of teaching, she is certified in both French and Spanish, but she has been studying the Italian language her entire life. She has 35 students enrolled in her Italian classes and is teaching Italian I, II, and II for freshmen, sophomores and juniors. Many of these students are interested, she says, because they have Italian heritage. For others, the interest may be just because they think it is a beautiful language.
“Classroom learning incorporates listening, speaking, reading and writing in Italian as well as learning the culture,” Mrs. Wickland noted. “We had a special presentation last week that encompassed both history and culture.”
Anna Pishner Harsh, formerly of Clarksburg, visited with the class. Anna is the founder, director, and choreographer of the Allegro Dance Company in Wheeling, which is made up of 12 members ranging in age from 17 to 30. She is well known for her performances in the area during the West Virginia Italian Heritage Festival. However, she has toured all over the United States and in Italy, entertaining at festivals, concerts, universities, public schools, parades and cultural celebrations. She was honored to perform for Pope John Paul II and travels often to Naples where she continues to study dance with her teacher there.
She spoke to the students about how “dance tells a story” and is representative of a culture, frequently using words spoken in Italian. She also asked for their participation and taught them three Italian dances – including the Tarantella, one of the most recognized Italian folk dances. Anna explained the legend of this particular dance’s origin, referring to it (back in the 15th to 17th centuries) as being a supposed cure for hysteria that followed being bitten by the tarantula spider.
Although the students practiced to slower versions of music in order to learn the steps, the Tarantella is typically a very rhythmic dance. Anna explained that the Italian folk dances usually begin with the participants in a circle and noted that this was representative of ‘community’ and symbolic of how people are meant to have kinship and not be alone.
This was a special experience for the students, taking them away from textbook learning for a change – but, nevertheless, a learning experience.
“We are progressing very well in the textbook learning, so that leaves some room for special projects such as this,” Mrs. Wickland stated. “Soon, we will begin working on a series of skits – mini Italian productions – that will give the students an opportunity to put to use what they have learned. I am very proud of how the students are doing in this subject area; there are probably at least ten of the students who want to move up to Italian III, so the interest is certainly there.”
Unfortunately, though, with school boards being forced to make budgetary cuts, this course may be among those to suffer. They could possibly have to resort to ‘distance learning’ to continue with the Italian course through a television connection – OR – there is also talk that perhaps the program would be offered through a ‘virtual school’. These possibilities are right now still undecided.