Each year the Marlboro chapter of UNICO National holds an Italian themed essay contest for 7th and 8th graders, followed by an awards dinner. This year the 1st Place winner in the 7th grade was Jacqueline Rivera for her essay on Galileo Galilei and Leonardo da Vinci.
Rivera described Galilei as a ‘truth seeker’ and a ‘true genius’ during the Renaissance, a cultural movement from the 15th through the 16th century.
“This keen, talented man was an astronomer, physicist and engineer from Pisa, Italy. He created many inventions, most of which were inspired by the Greek mathematician Archimedes,” she said. Rivera stated that Galilei’s most important invention was the telescope.
Rivera pointed out that Leonardo da Vinci, “wasn’t just an artist; he was also an engineer, scientist, inventor and an important figure in world history. He sketched numerous future inventions, including the parachute and the diving suit.” Rivera is revered for the Mona Lisa and a clay horse statue named ‘Gran Cavallo’.
“These two important men were part of what made our modern world like it is today. Without them we would be clueless and uneducated about everything around us,” she said. “In the end, they taught the public about beauty, wisdom and our world. As Leonardo da Vinci once said, ‘Learning never exhausts the mind,’”
Rivera became interested in the essay contest so she could receive extra credit.
“I always strive for extra credit whether I like it or not,” she said.
Rivera said her father’s encouragement sparked her interest in doing the needed research and writing, “and I ended up winning.”
Sophia Montalbano received the 1st Place award at the 8th grade level for her essay on the history of The Vatican.
“The government of the Vatican is a monarchy, run by the Pope. There is no military force in the Vatican but the Swiss Guard is stationed there to protect the Pope. Italy also provides the Vatican with military protection. The Vatican is its own country, so the monarchy produces its own euros, stamps, passports, license plates, media outlets, flag and anthem.”
Montalbano pointed out that below the Pope are the cardinals, bishops, monsignors and priests, followed by the heads of bureaus and the lay workers.
“The Vatican is a fascinating and unique place for history and religion to grow. The City has been through social changes, economic roller coasters, political debates and chaos throughout history,” she concluded.
Montalbano was unable to attend the dinner as she was in Albany at a Youth in Government Conference. They were presenting a bill to the NYS Assembly, aimed at increasing the statue of limitations on crimes from five to fifteen years.
Montalbano was reached by phone for comment. She became interested in entering the contest after her Social Studies teacher Geoff Pesano suggested it to her.
“My family is Italian so I thought it was interesting to write about some things in Italy,” she said.
Montalbano said she was surprised to win.
“I’m pretty happy; it’s great to be honored by 1st Place,” she said.
Geoff Pesano, Chairman of the Social Studies Department at the Middle School, said each year the information for the UNICO Essay contest comes to him and he distributes it to all of the 7th and 8th grade teachers, who present it to the students for extra credit.
UNICO member Nick Johannets has headed up the essay contest committee from nearly the beginning and is assisted by Geoff Pesano and Frank Lofaro.
“The end result is usually the best, when you actually meet the kid and their family,” he said. “The parents are very supportive and that’s important.”
Johannets said each year the committee discusses how to “freshen up” the topics that highlight their Italian Heritage.
“I like to spice it up a little bit so it’s not the same old thing, plus this is what the students are doing in school” he said.
Frank Ricciardone and Joe Noto are both charter members of the Marlboro UNICO (1988) and always come out in support of the essay contest.
“I love the fact that we’re giving the children the chance to show their talents and understand their history and are able to put it into words to show where our Italian heritage comes from,” Ricciardone said.
Noto added, “We’re proud to have the Italian heritage do what their doing in Marlborough. We brought it here years ago [UNICO] and we’re very successful.”
The judges this year were Rick Coppinger, Dan Martuscello, Bill Orlando and Geoff Pesano.
The 1st Place winners each received a check for $200 and a plaque and the 2nd Place winners each received $100 and the 3rd Place winners $50. The 7th grade 2nd Place winner was Angela Calderone and 3rd Place went to Emma Stoebling. In 8th grade, the 2nd Place went to Devin Brooks and 3rd Place to Harrison Solomon.