Photo Courtesy of Simona Spicciani
Having just arrived in the U.S. from Italy, Simona Spicciani, a generally avid public speaker, was nervous to say anything at all in English. Fearful of stuttering and not being taken seriously, the Italian teacher kept to herself. It seemed that by the time she had formulated a cohesive thought, translated it into English, and worked up the courage to share it, the discussion had moved on to another topic. Over the past 15 years she’s been at Wilson, Spicciani has grown more comfortable and left her mark on the Wilson community in the process.
Spicciani has been teaching Italian at Wilson since 2004, after working at elementary schools in Prince George’s County. “I was really interested in working with high schoolers, and this was at the time the Italian Embassy was opening a language program at Wilson, so that was a good time for me to come,” she explained.
She’s taught Italian at Wilson for 15 years now, but has since added French to her class load. “My major in college was English and French. Coming from another country and getting to teach something you know really well was great,” Spicciani said.
Spicciani first came to DC from Florence, Italy to study at Georgetown University. “In Italy, my first class in college was American history. I fell in love with the concept of the self-made man and the land of opportunity, and I knew I was ready to go to the United States and study there,” she said. The structure of college here was unexpected by her. “I was very surprised to see how college in the U.S. was structured like high school in Italy. There were lots of deadlines, and we had homework; I really did not like that. In college in Italy, we had big deadlines at the end of the semester, and we didn’t have daily homework. You just have to learn to pace yourself,” she explained.
Soon after arriving at Wilson, Spicciani came to embrace Wilson for its diversity, just as she did with the US as a whole. “When I went to Wilson, I could really feel the melting pot,” Spicciani said. Spicciani approaches education with the same principles that brought her to the U.S. in the first place. “My personal mission as an educator is to help students appreciate and embrace the great opportunities that Wilson and the world offer and to not take anything for granted,” she said.
While she loves teaching and being in the classroom, Spicciani treasures the time she has to get out of the classroom with students. Seven years ago, she began coaching tennis and Kids Run DC. “I wasn’t a runner at all, but another teacher just asked me, ‘Do you want to run a marathon?’ And I said yes. And that’s how we started working together on this program,” she said. “I was teaching students self-discipline through running.” Though she no longer runs competitively or coaches, Spicciani runs on her own and enjoys coaching her daughter in tennis.
For Spicciani, her running philosophy became a mantra. “The analogy of the marathon is always something that I have in my head when I start new projects. It’s a long journey, there are many setbacks, and it’s hard, but you have to be consistent,” she explained.
She has applied this mindset to several of her projects at Wilson, including starting the School Climate Committee (SCC) and sponsoring the Student Government Association (SGA). “Wilson is such a big school and it feels like a collection of individual classrooms,” Spicciani said. “We need to unite under the same mission and values.” With this goal in mind, she began to co-lead the SCC with Assistant Principal Gregory Bargeman three years ago. “Something that I really want to work on this year with the committee is to try to have the ROAR [Respect, Ownership, Attendance, Responsibility] values really come alive, especially among students,” she said.
This year, Spicciani and science teacher Dani Moore were presented with the Vincent E. Reed Award for Excellence in Teaching. Wilson’s class of 1970 established the award to recognize outstanding staff members who “motivate students at Wilson with their unique skills and abilities.”
Having her hard work recognized by the Wilson community was very meaningful to Spicciani. “The award meant a lot. In my 15 years at Wilson, I had the space and opportunity to be creative and see ideas turning into action, thanks to the help of many supportive colleagues.”