Angela Hertz ’99 shares her love of Italy’s language and culture as executive director of La Scuola d’Italia Galileo Galilei. Started in 2014 by Hertz and two co-founders, La Scuola d’Italia Galileo Galilei aims to be a full-fledged Pre-K-12 bilingual private school that promotes, maintains and preserves the Italian language, culture and history in the Pittsburgh area.
Can you speak to how Dickinson’s useful liberal-arts education helped you along your career path?
My liberal-arts education at Dickinson gave me a chance to explore both Italian and English studies together. It made me who I am today.
What was your favorite activity/organization at Dickinson?
I had so many. I really loved my time at Dickinson. It helped me to grow as a person and to explore so many new avenues of interest in life.
What jumps out as a great memory from your time at Dickinson?
My friends, my professors and all the interesting classes that I took.
How do you stay involved with Dickinson?
I return to Dickinson as often as I can. It was my home for so very long, and I love returning to see what is new and what is still going on—and to visit professors who are still there.
How did you get interested in your work, and what about it excites you most?
Though I have been teaching Italian now for 14 years, I became interested in teaching by chance. A fortune-teller during my senior year at Dickinson told me that I was going to become an English teacher. I told him he was crazy, because teaching was the furthest thing from my mind. However, after I had received my master’s in Italian and had lived in Florence, Italy, I started to realize that I had a knack for teaching. I perfected my abilities while teaching in high school and at the university level. When I taught in high school, I was able to create a large group of success stories with students who became fluent in Italian but were struggling in all of their other classes. I created my own little world of Italy inside that school, where their first homework assignment was always to teach Italian to five adults, teachers and students. Every year, I would be complimented on how well my students did in teaching others Italian. These kinds of moments were the best for me!
What excites me the most and motivates me are my students and their success in Italian! For example, several of my Italian students from high school went to Italy, and when they returned, they said that they could understand almost everything that everyone said to them and were shocked at how much Italian they had learned in Italian 1 class before departing.
What led you on this career path?
I studied Italian and English at Dickinson and was almost a double major, missing only my senior seminar in Italian, but I went on to study Italian after Dickinson at the University of Pittsburgh and lived in Florence, Italy, from 2000-2002. I then received my master’s in Italian with a teaching certificate. From there, I went on to teach Italian in a high school in New Jersey for three years followed by teaching Italian at the University of Pittsburgh in both the undergraduate program and the Osher Program. I also have taught at Greensburg Central Catholic High School as well as privately to families and adults. Now, I have expanded my repertoire to starting and running a language school, La Scuola d’Italia Galileo Galilei. We chose the name Galileo Galilei because he was a scientist who was an achiever and an inventor. Without him, we would not have known the universe, the stars and the world as we know it today.
In April 2017, we opened phase II of our school and have expanded into an Italian daycare/preschool called L’Asilo. We offer Italian and English as a must, but we also offer the opportunity to study other languages such as Spanish and French and Greek. We know how important it is for children to learn other languages at a young age and to be exposed to different cultures and different worlds outside of our own. We teach both the American school standards and Italian standards of science, math, reading, history, art, etc., using a combination of the Reggio Emilia and Montessori methodologies. Our teachers in the Asilo have more than 13 years of experience that allows us to create a well-rounded environment for children to learn, thrive and become the best that they can be.
What does your current work entail?
At La Scuola d’Italia Galileo Galilei, I run and organize all of the school’s and cultural association’s calendar of events, activities, educational programs, and I teach. We have a very large staff of 10 teachers, and a director for L’Asilo. We offer an after school program for K-12, an adult program for those wanting to learn Italian, family courses and private lessons. We also offer free events with our cultural association, such as Italian film nights, group conversations in Italian each month, date nights for kids to learn Italian while parents are out, story times and lectures on the history, art history and other topics of Italy. We assist people with the dual citizenship process and translations and so much more. I run and organize most of it with the help of my two co-founders and our director of L’Asilo.
What is the most challenging part of your work?
The most challenging part of my job is the day-to-day work. The preparation and the very long hours to make sure everything is functioning well and organized. It has become my passion to make our school a top of the line success! We have a very good reputation, and I plan to keep it that way.
What comes to mind as something unforgettable that you’ve done since you graduated?
Creating this school and raising my son as a bi-lingual success story, as he is fluent in Italian and English and never mixes the two, have become my life successes. I know what it takes to teach children many languages fluently without mixing them and confusing them. We have created this school to pass on the knowledge of language education to the next generation. We are creating a small world of little geniuses one day at a time.
If you could have dinner with anyone famous, living or dead, who would it be?
I can think of lots of people who aren’t famous, that I would rather have dinner with one last time. I’d show them all that I did to keep their memories and heritage alive: my grandparents, my aunts, uncles and all of my Italian relatives who are no longer with me. I would show them pictures of my wedding in Gamberale, Italy, in their hometown in Abruzzo, and I would love to talk with them more about their lives, history and their struggles to come to America.
You just built a time machine: where and when do you go?
I would go back to 2000-02 when I lived in Italy. I would tell my old self all about what I was about to create and do, and all that was going to happen in my life and the decisions that I was going to make that would change my life forever. I would tell her to consider doing it sooner. Then I would stay in that time to enjoy Italy again.
If you could change one thing about your life, what would it be?
I would have started La Scuola five years earlier when my two colleagues begged me to start it, but I was comfortable in my university teaching job. I truly wish that I had listened to them earlier, but sometimes things happen for a reason and from that job I gained a reputation in Pittsburgh and became more well known in the educational community, which in the end, helped spark a quick growth for La Scuola.
Published September 1, 2017