‘Being Italian is more than just food’: Ridgewood continues Festa Italiana tradition

Ridgewood High School students celebrated the Italian culture during the school’s eighth annual Festa Italiana, inviting family, and the community to take part in a ceremony honoring new Italian National Honor Society inductees.

The event hosted more than 400 attendees for an opening ceremony in the Norridge school’s auditorium, informing the crowd of everything Ridgewood’s Italian program has accomplished this semester. The students also played a video compilation of clips from their trip to Italy last year, and showcased student-made commercials featuring Italian products like San Pellegrino, and Barilla pasta.

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Dolores Pigoni-Miller, an Italian teacher and honors society adviser at Ridgewood, continues the Festa tradition every year alongside Giovanna Portanova, also an Italian teacher at Ridgewood.

“We try to give the kids the idea that being Italian is more than just food,” Pigoni-Miller said. “It’s rich in history, culture, music, and film, and literature and many areas, including the Made in Italy brand.”

The commercials, which were also part of the Italian 4 students’ final project, offered a comedic and informative look into the items. Students were tasked with writing their commercial script entirely on their own, only using English subtitles to assist the audience. After all commercials had played, the audience was asked to vote for their favorite.

Each level of Italian was also given their own project to complete, ranging from creating poster boards and researching Italian monuments, to writing up the cultural comparisons between the U.S. and Italy.

After all project votes had been collected, Ridgewood students Stefania and Vincenzo Santoro presented awards to the best Italian projects at all levels. After the awards, 21 new honors society inductees were invited onto the stage for a candle-lighting induction ceremony.

The celebration then continued in the school’s gym for an evening of food and music, with walls lined with Italian decor and student projects.

“We use everything in that room to educate the public a little bit,” Pigoni-Miller said.

Although the Festa had been held in the cafeteria in the past, it had drawn such a large crowd that the administration suggested it move to the gym.

Kasia Lechowska, one senior co-president of Ridgewood’s Italian National Honor Society, said she was involved with organizing Italian gym decor, and more.

“We had to organize people to donate food, and some of our INHS members went out and asked people to donate food,” she said. “Today, we spent all day setting up and decorating the gym, so everyone in INHS helped, and a lot of younger Italian classes helped, too. We decorated a lot with the posters and projects the Italian classes did.”

Pigoni-Miller said her students help her see “the beauty of Italian culture” every day with the enthusiasm and curiosity they bring to class.

“The students make my job so much fun,” she said. “I love going to work every day just spending time with them. I’m lucky because I get to know them really well because I have them year after year, and watch them grow up. The sad part is when they leave. I become very attached to them.”

Klaudia Podsada, another senior co-president of Ridgewood’s INHS, hopes to see more people back out for next year’s event.

“I think seeing it all set up at the end of the day was the best part,” she said. “It really brings everyone together.”

Gianna Annunzio is a freelance reporter for Pioneer Press.


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