Italian Consulate Education Director Paola Ebranati

Italian Consulate Education Director Paola Ebranati, left looks over Franklin Magnet Italian Immersion 1st grader Emi Moses' work, right, during visit to the Glendale school. (Raul Roa / Staff Photographer / October 24, 2012)

Students studying Italian at Franklin Elementary were paid a visit Wednesday by Paola Ebranati, the education director for the Italian consulate in San Francisco.

The Milan-born Ebranati, who was raised near the Alps in northern Italy, toured the kindergarten through third-grade dual-language immersion classes at Franklin, where students spend their days meeting Italian and Californian standards.

In the kindergarten class, Italian words beginning with “P” were the topic of study. Worksheets illustrated “pera” for pear, “polpo” for octopus and “pantera” for panther.

After conversing in Italian with students in each grade, Ebranati was overwhelmed with their fluidity when speaking to them about their family, pets, studies and “zuccas” (pumpkins) in advance of Halloween.

“I can't believe what I'm seeing,” she said. “It's a dream.”

Franklin Magnet was the first Southern California school Ebranati has visited since taking her new post at the San Francisco consulate less than two months ago.

The diverse student population in Franklin's Italian program reminded Ebranati of schools in Italy's northeast region, where ever more Eastern Europeans are learning Italian and English for the first time, on top of Russian, Croatian and other languages, she said.

“It's just the same feeling. You see a performance like this,” she said. “The cognitive skills build up — one on top of the other.”

The dual-immersion program at Franklin has kindergartners and first-graders spending 90% of classroom time speaking Italian and the other 10% in English. By fifth grade, the time is evenly split between Italian and English.

Glendale schools also offer dual-immersion classes in Spanish, Korean, German, Japanese and French.

District officials are working to expand their language programs to middle schools, where they may potentially add a third language for students who have studied two through elementary school.

By the end of her visit Wednesday, Ebranati said she would try to secure more funding for Franklin's Italian program.

“I really hope it can succeed,” she said. “I will write a message for the embassy. This is the first step.”

Follow Kelly on Twitter @kellymcorrigan.