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Italian Program Spotlight: St. Catherine of Siena School 

The Italian Program at St. Catherine of Siena School, an Italian Community Service’s John C. Riccio Grant recipient, is a long-standing foreign language program that has been part of the kindergarten through Grade 8 curriculum for more than 40 years. The school itself for many years was and still is staffed by Missionary Sisters of Sacro Costato from Italy.  

 Italian program director and teacher Leana Giannini with students 

About the Program 

Currently, kindergarten through Grade 5 students meet for a 45-minute Italian class once a week, and Grade 6 through Grade 8 students meet twice per week. On average, 75 to 100 students per year, or roughly a third of the student body, choose to study Italian rather than Spanish.  

St. Catherine of Siena School uses the Italian Community Services Riccio grant to enhance its textbooks, materials, and technology. These grants ensure that the Italian program is well-equipped to teach and support students with the best materials and tools available, including digital textbooks for audio-based exercises.  

The Italian students engage in culturally based projects, including the celebration of Italian holidays and traditions such as: Santa Lucia, il Presepe di Natale, la Befana, Carnevale, and la Festa della Donna. They have exchanged pen pal letters and emails with students in Italy of the same age. They also research and report on individual Italian cities and regions, presenting information on history, industry, and, of course, cuisine. The students, usually in groups, research and present reports on famous Italian individuals and soccer teams. Throughout the year, the Italian students memorize and recite or sing classic Italian songs, prayers, poems, and filastrocche. 


Kindergarten Graduation Performance Practice of “Canzone della Felicità” 


Each November and December, in Grade 6 through Grade 8, the students create a “calendario” for the following year, listing both American and Italian holidays, and Italian proverbs or rhymes specific to each month. The students research the origins and practices of each Italian holiday. At Christmas time, the Italian-Spanish classes for the junior high have a joint celebration where “i dolci” from different regions of Italy, and various Spanish-speaking countries, are pre-prepared, described in the target language, and enjoyed. 

For their final projects, students in Grade 7 and Grade 8 memorize and recite lines of Dante’s “La Divina Commedia” or other Italian classic poetry and illustrate assigned sections.  


Grade 7 students reciting “la Spigolatrice di Sapri” for their final project. 


Grade 7 students’ final project visuals for “la Spigolatrice di Sapri” 


About Professoressa Giannini 

Leana Giannini has been teaching Grade 4 through Grade 8 since 1998, and the entire Italian program, kindergarten through Grade 8, since 2010. She brings love and passion to her role and creates an Italian community for students and their parents. Giannini has her roots in Lucca. Most recently she attended the ancient “Festa di Santa Croce” in Lucca, and the “Carnevale Universale” in Viareggio. Upon her return, she shared her experience with her classes and had the students do an in-depth study of the winning floats of “Carnevale Universale 2021”.  

Students’ projects for the celebration of Carnevale 


 “Studying Italian is not just about learning the Italian language and culture, but necessarily involves the study of the ancient world, and the roots of Western Civilization itself.” 

Leana Giannini, Italian program director and teacher at St. Catherine of Siena School 


Leana has borrowed resources and taken inspiration from “Primo Programma,” the creation of ICS Board member Ilia Salomone Smith. Primo Programma was a weekend Italian language program that Leana’s children participated in for more than 15 years. The passion of the Italian language teachers in the Bay Area has prompted collaboration and sharing of resources.  


The Program during the Pandemic and Today 

Since March of 2020, the Italian Program at St. Catherine’s has adapted to an increasingly technological educational environment. Giannini created a virtual classroom with “Bitmojis” for the kindergarten through third graders, where they can access Italian stories and songs online. The students use Google Forms to create flashcards and online quizzes. The Grade 4 through Grade 8 Italian students use Google Slides for in-class and zoom presentations. The Grade 6 through Grade 8 students work on pages for Google Sites created for the respective Italian class. Some of the Grade 7 students were even able to create their own mock digital Italian identity cards a “CEI” or “Carta d’Identita` Elettronica” from a template created with Google tools. Google Classroom continues to be an important means of communicating with students and parents and posting assignments and grades. 


8th Grade Italian Class Google Site 


Perhaps acquiring a degree of tech literacy was the silver lining to teaching during Covid. Giannini continues to host her help sessions, both on campus and virtually. Leana and St. Catherine of Siena School acknowledge the Riccio Educational Grant as vital to the continuation of this unique program.  


Learn More 

If you are interested in learning more about the Italian Program at St. Catherine of Siena School, please visit or contact Leana Giannini directly at 

To learn more about Italian Community Service’s John C. Riccio Grant program, please visit for more information. 

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