Charlie Dahlgren, Managing Editor

Natalie Del Pecio’s life would never be the same after a seemingly insignificant opportunity turned into an important realization that opened her eyes to the world of education.

At the time, Del Pecio was working as an office assistant at The Italian Cultural Institute of Chicago. She started working at the institute after finishing her undergrad at UIC, studying Italian and psychology. Her boss approached her one morning asking her to fill in for a teacher that had called in sick and Del Pecio agreed.

Del Pecio had always enjoyed interacting with the students, but found a new passion in the classroom that day. From then on, Del Pecio’s boss allowed her to teach more often.  She eventually decided to quit her job and return to school to earn a Master’s degree in education.

Since graduating, Del Pecio has taught Italian classes at York Community High School (her alma mater), Trinity High School and has even taught English in Italy. Now, she is ready to start a new chapter in her life and is moving her talents to Prospect following Italian teacher Lyn Scolaro’s retirement.

“I’m really comfortable at York because I was a student there, I student taught there and I worked there,” said Del Pecio. “[But,] I’m very much ready to get out of my comfort zone and be at Prospect.”

Del Pecio has been interested in her family history for as long as she can remember. From a very young age she became obsessed with hearing stories, learning recipes, and seeing artifacts from her family, especially those pertaining to her great grandparents’ immigration from Italy. One of her fondest memories as a kid was when her Grandma took her to Ellis Island and saw her great grandparents’ names on the wall.

Naturally, with Del Pecio’s love for family history came a love for the Italian culture and language. Her parents and grandparents both spoke Italian and continued cultural traditions passed down through many Italian families. However Del Pecio’s love for Italy culminated in high school when she started to study the Italian language.

Sophomore year, Del Pecio was given what she considers a life-changing opportunity to visit Italy with her school. There was no way that she wasn’t going. Soon, Del Pecio, her Grandma and seven other classmates were on their way to Italy to experience the Italian culture first hand. While in Italy,  Del Pecio and her grandma snuck away from the tour group and met up with their relatives who still lived in Italy. They were treated so kindly that from that trip on, Del Pecio has returned to Italy almost every year to visit her family.

One of the things Del Pecio is most excited about is how much Prospect values those kinds of trips and exchanges and how they contribute to the students’ love for Italy.

“I love getting the students excited about the Italian language and culture,” said Del Pecio. “I am so excited to be a part of a school that appreciates the exchange and appreciates the abroad experience because I really do think that is what gets the kids excited to take the language. They want to have a real-life experience.”

Del Pecio first fell in love with Prospect three years ago when she spent time subbing for Scolaro. She immediately saw herself reflected in Prospect students’ respect and eagerness to learn. After finishing her most recent stretch of subbing, Del Pecio realized that Prospect was her dream school.

Del Pecio first met Scolaro at an American Association of Teachers of Italian (AATI) meeting. Ever since, Scolaro has been a source of knowledge, help and support for Del Pecio. Scolaro, who Del Pecio still calls her guru, has already offered her congratulations as well as guidance to help make the transition of teachers as seamless as possible for current Italian students.

Del Pecio has started the process of deciding what curriculum she wants to bring to Prospect. She wants to build off of the lessons that work well for Scolaro as well as incorporating her own ideas to put her own spin on the Italian class. Her end goal at Prospect is to grow the Italian program by getting more students interested in joining her class.

Del Pecio recognizes that Scolaro was an important presence in both the Italian department and entire school, but thinks that with dedication she can make Prospect’s Italian class better than ever before.

“They’re big shoes to fill,” said Del Pecio. “I’m aware, the pressure is on, but I’m very optimistic that I can do a lot with this program as well.