Gilda Rorro Baldassari ’62 was teaching multicultural education and developing new curriculum to cross the barriers of segregation long before diversity became the norm.
How did a double major in French and Spanish with a minor in Education become the champion for multicultural education? Baldassari explains, “Professor Cutright gave me permission to go to Mexico on a summer program scholarship and remain there for the first semester of my senior year. In Mexico, I was invited to be an interpreter for the Acapulco Film Festival.
"My first assignment was to interview the consummate cellist, Pablo Casals. Soon, I was declared ‘Photographers’ Queen and subsequently, ‘Radio Announcers’ Queen of the festival. Jack Lemon, academy award winner, placed the crown on my head at a nationally televised ceremony. This led to a movie contract in which I appeared in three full-length films—one with Dolores Del Rio.”
And so launched a lifelong journey that Baldassari could not have imagined. Her study abroad experience improved her Spanish and introduced her to the world of television and, when she returned to the States, she became a television teacher and producer of Spanish for the Tri-State Area. She prepared the program curriculum and co-authored the Say It In Spanish series.
For her exemplary work, she received the Tri-state Letter of Commendation. Several years later in Hamilton Township School District, she taught and coordinated the English as a Second Language program, developed the curriculum and prepared the materials for classroom teachers. For this, she was honored Teacher of the Year and was a finalist for the New Jersey Teacher of the Year Awards.
As a National Origin Coordinator for the State, she taught professional development classes to educators on how to meet the needs of students from other cultures and language backgrounds. She also developed educational materials for Haitian students and learned to speak Haitian Creole at the University of Indiana. While writing her doctoral dissertation, she published two handbooks on Haitians.
Two weeks after receiving her doctorate in Urban Education/Bilingual/Bicultural Education, she became the director of the Equity Office, called the Office of Equal Educational Opportunity. She was responsible for desegregating New Jersey school districts and was charged with all Affirmative Action issues statewide. She developed a document titled “Guidelines for Education that is Multicultural,” and has been applauded for her legacy of initiating and implementing multicultural education in New Jersey. Baldassari participated in the establishment of Sister City Relationships in Italy, whereby teachers and students and the curriculum are exchanged.
When she retired from the position of Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources for the Trenton Board of Education, she became the Honorary Vice Consul for Italy, in Trenton. She has held this position for 14 years and has received the highest honor bestowed on an individual by the Italian Government, the “Cavalierato,” or the English equivalent of “Dame.” The President of Italy made her a “Cavalier of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Italy” because of her contributions to the country of Italy, including the development of a curriculum titled, “The Universality of Italian Heritage.”
She has been the Chair of the Curriculum Development Committee of the NJ Italian and Italian American Heritage Commission, since the organization’s founding in January 2002 and co-authored, “Italians and the Holocaust.” On June 20, she was awarded the Hela Young Award from the NJ Commission on Holocaust/Genocide Education “for the improvement of human relations among diverse peoples.”
To say that she is immersed in the Italian culture would not be entirely correct; she immerses herself in everything she undertakes, always mindful of her core belief to include and welcome people of all racial and ethnic groups.