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In Person

Bill Dal Cerro

Chicago, Illinois Film, literature, and communications teacher; documentary producer

You were a producer on a film about Italian-American immigrants called And They Came to Chicago. What did that entail?
Establishing ties with the local PBS station, getting the filmmaker and historical research, tapping into business and history associates, generating publicity for the film.

What stirred you to explore your roots?
Alex Haley's book, Roots .

Who's more damaging to Italian Americans—Tony Soprano or Vito Corleone?
The characters aren't a problem so much as what they represent: institutionalized caricatures. People subliminally accept the idea that Italian Americans are either crooks and/or low-class.

Do you talk to your students about the damage of these stereotypes?
I do a unit on gangster movies, which gives me the opportunity to examine such stereotypes, as well as organized crime in general.

What do you consider the top two contributions of Italians to civilization?
The Italian Renaissance and the birth of America. (Many of our Founding Fathers, such as Thomas Jefferson, loved Italy and read Roman writers.)

What's your next project?
I'm writing a book about the history of Italians in jazz music, due out this summer.

Why did you decide to become an NEA member?
Two of the greatest educators in history were Italian: Vittorino da Feltre during the Renaissance and Maria Montessori in the 20th century. In my own small, modest, American way, I'd like to carry their passion for teaching into the new millennium.

To view the entire 76-minute documentary And They Came to Chicago, visit  to order a copy.

Ellen Rosenberg Rodwick

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Retired kindergarten teacher, "Squirt the Clown"

How did you get into clowning?
Inspired by the film Patch Adams, I researched hospital clowning and found [a local clown academy].

What's the best part about being a clown?
Bringing a smile to a sick child or giving parents a welcome break from the stress.

Does anything ever make you a sad clown?
Not allowed! (But toddlers on the oncology ward test my intentions.)

What's the better gag—squirting flower or honkable rubber nose?
Definitely the nose. I never do anything to my audience that could be scary or surprising.

What's the wackiest thing that's ever happened to you while you were clowning or on the way to a gig?
I ended up on TV, making up a local reporter as a clown and teaching him magic.

Do you get funny looks when you're driving to a gig?
Absolutely! Drivers at stoplights are always doing double-takes.

Why did you become an NEA member?
I was proud to join the ranks of such talented individuals who contribute so much to society.


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