Journey through the Italian American Community of New York. The Life and Educational Work of Leonard Covello (1887-1982)

Antonella Cagnolati's picture
October 4, 2022
Subject Fields: 
History Education, Italian History / Studies, World History / Studies

International conference on Leonard Covello, 40 years later

In the 1830s Leonard Covello (1887-1982) was a pioneer of bilingual education in the Italian community of East Harlem (New York), as well as principal of Benjamin Franklin High School, an institution represented a successful socio-pedagogical experiment in the active involvement of families and students.

Memories of his childhood and departure from the small town of Avigliano (Pz) to New York City, early experiences in the metropolis, reflections on cultural differences and accounts of a life intensely lived in the service of the Italian-American and Puerto Rican community make up the memoirs of his compelling autobiography The Heart is the Teacher (1958), a diary and manifesto of social and intercultural pedagogy.

Through his articles, speeches and writings, Leonard Covello identified cultural pluralism and lifelong education as the answer to curb the isolation of second-generation Italians in New York's Little Italy.

Leonard Covello's doctoral dissertation, The Social Background of the Italian-American School Child (1967) represents a classic of anthropology, ethnography and pedagogical history, essential for understanding the principles of the community centered school put in place at Benjamin Franklin High School (now Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics).

Leonard Covello spent the last years of his existence in Italy, invited by Danilo Dolci, who admired his work and involved him in the economic and social development activities of the “Centre for Studies an Initiatives for full employment”, an abandoned village in the province of Palermo.

Forty years after his death, the University of Foggia and the municipality of Avigliano want to remember the pedagogical, cultural and social commitment of Leonard Covello whose forgetfulness represents a gap to be filled by Italian scholars.


Since 2020, the University of Foggia has been engaged in a project to recover, translate and disseminate the main Italian protagonists of educational history who are on the margins in the great Italian pedagogical history.

Professor Antonella Cagnolati and dr. Carmen Petruzzi are working to create a network between Italian and foreign universities, public and private entities, societies and associations to build together the history of Italian-American pedagogy.


To deepen the history of Italian American emigration from an educational point of view;
reread the history of the educational paths of Italians in the United States of America;
recognize the relevance of Leonard Covello's socio-pedagogical work in the contemporary scenario of school reception of second-generation and/or foreign-born students;
work on best practices of school reception and inclusion from the theories of cultural pluralism, bilingualism and "community centered schooling."

Contact Info: 

Please contact:

Prof. Antonella Cagnolati 

Dr Carmen Petruzzi