BASKING RIDGE, NJ -- As they do every year, Ridge High School Italian language students sat for the National Italian Exam (NIE), sponsored by The American Association of Teachers of Italian (AATI).

More than 5,500 students from across the country and Puerto Rico participated. The exam highlights student achievement and promotes enjoyment of Italian language and culture. There are prizes -- medals, certificates, monetary rewards -- but the stuff of dreams are the scholarships for two-week, study-abroad programs in Italy. The top participant in each level, ranging from 1-5, gets the coveted trip.

Ridge students traditionally have performed well on the NIE, earning bronze, silver and gold medals.  But this year, for the first time in Ridge’s history, senior advanced placement Italian student Ciarra Criscione won the award for the highest score on the Level 5 exam. She heading off to study for 14 days in the historic Recanati, a castle-studded medieval town in Italy’s history-laden Marche region. Besides the free lodging and tuition, Criscione took with her $100 cash for scoring in the 99th percentile.

Sign Up for E-News

These extensive awards could not have been possible without the guidance of Mrs. Stotler, the district’s World Languages supervisor, and the skills and passion of her Italian teachers at William Annin Middle School and Ridge High School. Signora Bruni ignited Ciarra’s passion for la bella lingua in sixth grade with her enthusiasm for her native language, using catchy tunes and videos that introduced and rapidly expanded grammar and vocabulary.

At Ridge, it was Sra. Bologno’s rigor, skill, energy, and compassion for her students that spurred further learning success. Utilizing teaching methods that would appeal to teenagers, Bologno leveraged Google Classroom, interdisciplinary connections, and advanced technological strategies to prepare students for the AP exam.

Criscione made the best of an opportunity to enhance her learning through a three-week summer study program organized by Signora Kupiec, another Italian and Spanish teacher at Ridge. She improved her vocabulary and listening skills by following Italian celebrities on Instagram, such as Fedez and Chiara Ferragni, and by watching Italian TV shows such as X Factor Italia and The Voice Italia. 

When asked to reflect on her Italian studies, Criscione replied, “Learning Italian didn’t seem like work!”