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Milwaukee Italian Immersion School teacher wins national award for her work at MPS

Enrica Fracchia-MillerPreviously a teacher of English in Italy, Enrica Fracchia-Miller has been teaching MPS students how to speak Italian since 2014. Her teaching at Milwaukee Italian Immersion School, and her curriculum for her students, impressed the judges of a prestigious national award.

Fracchia-Miller is the 2023 winner of the Coccia-Inserra Award for Excellence and Innovation in the Teaching of Italian, which honors a teacher at the K-12 level. She teaches 1st and 2nd grade at Italian Immersion, which is housed in Victory School, 2222 W. Henry Ave.

The award committee reviewed lesson plans from Fracchia-Miller and a video that shows her teaching. The award typically is given to someone who teaches Italian as a second language, but at the immersion school, Italian is the primary language, Fracchia-Miller noted.

Fracchia-Miller, a native speaker of Italian, has been a teacher for 31 years. The majority of that time was in Italy, teaching English to middle schoolers. “I just transferred my knowledge here,” Fracchia-Miller said.

She grew up in a small town in the Italian region of Liguria, moving to the United States 12 years ago. She was studying for a master’s degree in Philadelphia when an MPS teacher emailed her to ask if she would be interested in teaching in Milwaukee.

She was indeed interested, and she was offered the job just three hours after her interview, Fracchia-Miller recalled.

She started teaching 4th grade — not yet at full immersion — and began preparing materials for the next school year. Fracchia-Miller then taught Italian to 5-year-old kindergartners, fully immersing them in the language. She moved with those kindergartners to 1st grade.

Fracchia-Miller worked to develop a curriculum for her students that is easy to use and child friendly but still follows the state’s Common Core standards for teaching subjects in English, she said.

Teaching Italian to children that young is a pleasure, Fracchia-Miller said. “Adults want to speak another language without mistakes,” and focus on fluency and grammar. With small children, “the most important thing is that they can understand you,” and that they can make themselves understood, she said. “It’s a lot of fun, I’m telling you.”

The immersion students become readers of Italian first, she noted, and then build their English reading skills in second grade.

Two of Fracchia-Miller’s best students are of Iraqi and Mexican heritage. The Iraqi-American student speaks Arabic at home and can switch between the languages with no problem. The Mexican-American student “can compare Spanish and Italian and see that they’re very similar,” Fracchia-Miller said.

Learning another language, the teacher said, “is an open door” when children grow up and move on to careers.

You have such a flexibility, a mindset. It can open doors for you at work,” she said.

The Coccia-Inserra award, which was presented to Fracchia-Miller in October at Montclair State University in Montclair, New Jersey, was established by the Coccia family and Lawrence Inserra Jr. The Coccia Institute at Montclair State University works to promote Italian and Italian-American culture; the Theresa and Lawrence R. Inserra Endowed Chair in Italian and Italian American Studies also is based at Montclair State University.

The award comes with a $5,000 prize. Of that, half is to be used in the classroom, to advance Italian language and culture through curriculum and programming. The other half is to be used for the winning teacher’s professional development.

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