Italy offers friendship through education

Heather Osbourne | 315-4440 | @heatheronwfdn |

NICEVILLE – Consul General of Italy, Gloria Bellelli, will attend the Okaloosa County School Board meeting Monday to sign a formal memorandum of understanding between the Italian government and the district. 

As part of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program at Eglin Air Force Base, the Italian Air Force is establishing a permanent presence in the area and will enroll Italian students into Okaloosa County schools.

The Italian government, wanting to keep their students current in their native language, will establish the Italian Cooperative Program into select districts schools. The program will offer Italian education taught by its natives. 

Italian Colonel Igor Bruni said the program, also available to American students, is an effort by the Italian consulate to establish a friendship between the U.S. and Italy.

"We think the best way to establish a friendship is to teach a little bit of our language," Bruni said. "Our kids will go through the program, but the delegation now is very small. About 95 percent of the students will be American."

In all, 600 American and Italian students will participate in the program next year, according to Luigi Bava, president of the Organization for the Development of Italian Language and educational branch of the Italian Consulate.  

The Italian representatives said the exact number of Italian pilots at Eglin, nor the number of Italian students coming to Okalossa County could not be disclosed.

On Monday evening, the district will host a reception in Italy's honor at Niceville High School. Senior military commanders, local elected officials and Italian representatives will attend in celebration of the program. 

Bellelli and Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson will sign the document at the 6 p.m. school board meeting, after the school board votes on the new program. 

"We are so excited to begin the Italian Cooperative Program in Okaloosa's schools," Jackson said. "It will benefit our students because the the importance of of cultural experiences is vital to living in a global society."