La Piccola Scuola Italiana di San Francisco

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Our Staff

Valentina Imbeni

Valentina was born in Modena, Italy and spent most of her life in Bologna. She graduated from the University of Bologna and went on to get a PhD in Bioengineering from Bologna University and the University of Cambridge, U.K. She moved to San Francisco in 2000 to work for UC Berkeley. After the birth of her two sons, Stefano and Matteo, Valentina discovered her passion for children and early childhood education and decided to get accredited from the State of California as a site supervisor/program director. Valentina enrolled her son Stefano at LPSI in 2005 and immediately fell in love with the school and became a vital member of the LPSI community. Valentina accepted the position of Direttrice in June 2007. Valentina loves her 3 boys, Italian food & culture and the Pacific Ocean. She is passionate about science, social constructivism and the Reggio Emilia philosophy.

Nicole Serra

Nicole received her B.A. from San Francisco State University in Child and Adolescent Development and Education, with an emphasis in young child and families and education through the arts. She has 10 years worth of teaching experiences in academic based, after-school and Reggio inspired programs and with raising her own child, Jaya Isabella. Nicole will continue her education in Emergent Curriculum and Constructivist philosophy and is working to get into the Master’s program at San Francisco State University. Nicole holds a site supervisor/program director permit from the State of California.

Rita Bellisario

Rita was born and raised in Catanzaro Italy. Her studies there included: Liceo Scientifico Albert Einstein High School and fashion design. In January 1997 she moved to the Bay Area to work as a nanny for two toddlers. Later, in 2002, she started assisting a family of twin boys (from birth to present). Her interested in neurological and developmental delay grew while working with one of the twins, who was born with Sensory, Audio and Speech delay. In 2000 she changed career but she had developed a passion for children and a resolution of someday working full time with children. In 2002, while working as a manager in a busy Italian restaurant, she decided to make the commitment and further her education in early child development and thus completed the 4 core ECE classes necessary to obtain a Teacher permit in the sate of California.Currently Rita is continuing her studies in Early Child Education. Rita joined the team at La Piccola Scuola Italiana for the opportunity to work with preschool children in an Italian immersion program. The environment at the school has enabled her to better understand preschoolers, while embracing and sharing her Italian culture. She is fluent in Italian, English and some Spanish.

Federica Lentini

Grew up in the city of Torino, in the North west of Italy. She received her degree in Clinical Psychology at the University of Torino in 2005. In 2007 she passed the exam to be licensed as a Psychologist. During her project at the University, she has worked with special need kidsand with individuals with “internet addiction”, and attachment disorders. After her studies Federica decides to move to San Francisco where she has volunteered (and still does) at the women’s building as a counselor for SFWAR. Federica joined the LPSI team inSpring of 2008 and she enjoys spending time with children’s and to experience and learn from the way they learn.La Piccola Scuola Italiana is a great place where to share her culture and passions. Federica also has a big passion for music and especially for singing. She also plays the guitar. For many years she has been a student at the “Centro Jazz” in Torino, and at the “Madrigale”. This passion makes San Francisco a great place to be for Federica.

Elisabetta Monari

Elisabetta Monari was born in Modena (Italy) in 1977, and has lived in Marin, California, since 2005. Elisabetta has always been very fond of children; she studied Early Child Education during high school in one of the first experimental Scientific Lyceums in Emilia Romagna and went on to complete her education with a Bachelor Degree in Fine Arts at the prestigious "Accademia Clementina" in Bologna (Italy). Elisabetta is also taking classes in ECE to obtain a Master Teacher permit. During her years as a student she continued working very closely with children, volunteering in her town's church camps, Sunday school, summer camps, and special needs center (“Centro per gli handicappati gravi”), and substitute teaching in her town's preschool, where for three years she also led a sensory/art class for children ages 3 to 5 years old. Elisabetta has been teaching at LPSI for over 2 years. She is married and blessed with a five-year-old son, Alessio. Her other passions are nature, her two cats and other countless pets, art, and the simple pleasures of life, like fine teas, window shopping for antiques, playing her piano, and relaxing on the balcony on a sunny day.

Paola Trigari

Paola, a native of Italy, grew up in Turin (Piedmont). She then moved to Paris (France) where she attended the Lycee International de St-Germain-en-Laye. She then moved to Sao Paulo (Brazil), where she attended the French-Portuguese Bilingual school. In Brazil, she volunteered at "Ministerio Agape" orphanage in Sâo Paulo.Paola moved back to Italy, Milan, to get her laurea with laudem from the Luigi Bocconi University. She has worked at the World Bank in Paris, Sole 24 Ore in Milan, Izmir Chamber of Commerce, in Izmir, Turkey and at Caboto Holding Sim bank. She then moved to Barcelona (Spain) where she obtained an MSc in Economics from the Pompeu Fabra University. She then moved to London where she got married with Giacomo and worked as a consultant. Finally, Paola moved to San Francisco, where she started a new and passionate career working with young with children. In San Francisco, she also volunteered at the Women’s Building and Cooperated in organizing a photographic exhibition for the Musevum of the African Diaspora (MOAD). After volunteering at LPSI for almost a year, she joined the school as teacher in June 2007. She has completed her ECE classes to obtain a Master Teacher permit. She is an Italian native speaker, and also speaks French and Portuguese at a native level. She is fluent in English and has a working knowledge of Spanish. Paola enjoys travelling, cinema, music and hiking with her husband.

Taylor Johnston

Taylor Johnston grew up in San Diego where her mother began a home daycare when she was five years old. She worked as a childcare assistant during high school until leaving California to attend Middlebury College in Vermont, where she studied English Literature and Creative Writing with a minor in Spanish. She began studying Italian in her senior year, then completed Middlebury's Summer Language School immersion program and taught English at a high school in Lombardy for a year. In 2008, she began a summer masters program at Middlebury, which will allow her to teach Italian at the university level. With her passion for language immersion, she loves seeing the progress and discoveries of the little minds at LPSI!

Elisa Hartwig

Elisa Hartwig, a native San Franciscan, joined the LPSI teacher team in early 2008. She began her Italian studies at Lowell High School here in San Francisco, followed by Pomona College in Southern California, where she majored in Italian Language, Literature, and Culture, with a second major in Philosophy. She studied at the University of Florence for a full year, during which she had the exceptional opportunity to intern at a preschool in Pistoia, Italy, called La Filastrocca. In 2004-2005, she worked at a Headstart preschool in Upland, California. Her past experience also includes children’s programs at the CA Academy of Sciences (2 years) and at various homeless shelters as a volunteer. Elisa has completed 2 ECE classes and she is currently taking 2 more to obrain her teacher permit. She is happy to have the opportunity to combine these two great passions of hers, children and everything Italian, along with a third: she teaches a weekly yoga class to each group, adapting her Iyengar Yoga teacher training to little limbs. Things that bring her joy daily: the smiles and laughter of her students, invisible light bulbs above their heads as they make connections both small and large, and their Tree Poses. Her other interests include reading and world travel.

Giovanni Messina

I was born in Calabria (southern Italy) in a small town called Marina di Fuscaldo. After high school, and completing my military assignment, I moved to California in 1994. My mother always encouraged me and my three sisters to get involved in the kitchen from a very young age, and from her I’ve developed my passion for cooking.

I currently live in Half Moon Bay with my two cats, Misha and Oliver, and my wife, Kim, who I married in May of 2004. I met her at Mezza Luna Italian Restaurant, where I’ve worked since 1994. Some of my other hobbies include skiing, swimming, running, and cooking and sharing a meal with my best friends. I’ve enjoyed cooking at LPSI since last year. I love to work with kids because they are so cute and sincere, and every time I work with them I have a blast!

Virna Messina

Virna Messina was born and raised in Fuscaldo, Italy. She completed her bachelor's degree in ophthalmology at Alexander Fleming University in Rome in 1990. Then she returned to Fuscaldo where she worked as an optometrist for the next ten years. Virna moved to Half Moon Bay in 1996 and worked part time as a nanny. She also has worked in Italian restaurants since moving to San Francisco. She loves cooking and kids and is happy to be able to enjoy both while working at the Piccola Scuola.

Board of Directors

Viola Buitoni (President)
Michelle Lever (Secretary)
Donald Miele (Treasurer)
Stefano Bini (Capital Campaign)
Heather Gatti
Stefano Alberti
Laura Pacchini
Greg Daniels
Valentina Imbeni


Julie Wurm, MEd, ECE professional and author of "Working In The Reggio Way: A Beginner's Guide For American Teachers"
Prof. Nina Mogar, MEd City College of San Francisco
Cav. Ilia Salomone-Smith, MA, MPh, Direttrice, Primo Programma
Susan Lyons, E. Ed

Job Opportunities

We’d like to hear from fully qualified Italian preschool teachers (or teachers with native-like fluency in Italian) who are passionate about the Reggio Emilia approach.

Please contact us if you are an Italian native speaker or have native-like fluency and are interested in substituting our teaching staff.

You need a valid US work permit to work at La Piccola Scuola Italiana di San Francisco. For further information, please email Valentina Imbeni at director@lpsisf.org.