by Brittany Kenney
Originally printed in the Spring/Summer 2020 Lantern
“Dad, come get me NOW!,” said Matt DiGiovanni’s tearful daughter, Jessica, as she called him from her middle school. She had just received a poor grade on a test for which she had studied hard. Her dad knew this because they had worked on it together. Yet there she was again, not seeing academic results that matched her arduous efforts.
Matt understood his daughter’s frustration better than most; he had been diagnosed with a language-based learning difference (LBLD) as a child and confronted imposing obstacles throughout his educational journey. Labeled as “lazy” by his parochial school teachers, Matt was shuffled from school to school and never considered college a possibility. Likewise, Matt’s wife, Fiorella (Fee), immigrated to America from Italy as a child and faced the incredible challenge of learning a new language while trying to grasp complex academic concepts. They both knew what it felt like to be misunderstood by the educational system.
Fast forward many years, and now the DiGiovannis are a family of seven, with five children—Andrew, twins Jessica and Christina, Guilia, and Catherine. Despite his academic hurdles, Matt attended Wentworth Institute of Technology and built a successful career in the construction industry. Fee went on to become a talented hair stylist and devoted mother. The children attended parochial school in Woburn and were all doing well until the twins were in late elementary school. That was when their teachers started noticing some learning challenges. The girls were tested, and both were diagnosed with LBLDs. Christina did not need accommodations for her learning differences and enjoyed a successful traditional school experience. But Jessica, her twin sister, was not as fortunate.
Like Matt, Jessica was moved from parochial school to public school. The DiGiovannis were often told, “She just isn’t trying hard enough.” Knowing that simply wasn’t true, the DiGiovannis held meeting after meeting with advocates, attorneys, and administrators in an effort to attain a quality education for their daughter. After years of difficult meetings, Matt asked his daughter where she might like to go to college. Her response: “Dad, I’ll be lucky to finish high school.” Matt and Fee were devastated—and angry.
At the end of Jessica’s freshman year, the DiGiovannis knew they needed to make a drastic change. A former special education teacher suggested they look into Landmark School. This teacher had taken part in Landmark Outreach’s Summer Institute and knew that the school’s educational model could work for Jessica. They applied, and Jessica started the Summer Program a few weeks later.
Matt recalls, “I picked her up on the first day of summer school, and she looked at me and said ‘Dad, I can learn.’” As heartbreaking as it was to hear those words from your 15-year-old child, the DiGiovannis knew they had found the right place for their daughter. Jessica had a rocky start at the beginning of her sophomore year, but despite the challenges, she excelled. She transferred to Landmark’s Prep Program for her junior year, graduated the following year, and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Adelphi University. She is currently working on her master’s degree at Simmons College.
When younger daughters Guilia and Catherine started having learning issues, the family knew where to turn. Guilia attended the Landmark Summer Program for three years and graduated from Lexington High School. She received her bachelor’s degree in biotechnology from Endicott College and will attend graduate school in the fall. Their youngest, Catherine, graduated from Landmark in June 2020, after spending four years in the Prep Program. She was named a 2020 North Shore Honors Scholar and was accepted to seven colleges. She plans to study neuroscience at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut in the fall.
Matt and Fee have been loyal supporters and donors to Landmark School since Jessica arrived at Landmark over a decade ago. Landmark, they say, “was a godsend for our family. We want to make sure kids less fortunate than ours are able to access the educational opportunities available at Landmark.” The DiGiovannis gave generously during the May 2020 Landmark Cares Day, a fundraising drive that supported financial aid. Matt has also been involved with Landmark’s annual golf tournament for many years and has been a vocal supporter and advocate for the school.
It’s been a long and oftentimes bumpy road for the DiGiovanni family when it comes to education. Matt and Fee’s childhood experiences helped them understand the complicated challenges their daughters faced. They did not take “no” for an answer and fought to get their children the education they needed—and deserved. They are now fighting to make sure that the same education is available to other children by supporting the financial aid program at Landmark.
Catherine’s graduation in June marked the end of the DiGiovanni’s tenure as Landmark parents. “This isn’t it for us though. We’ll continue to stay involved with the school in any way we can.” We welcome them as Alumni Parents and look forward to fighting right along with them for many years to come!
The DiGiovanni family from left to right: Catherine, Guilia, Fee, Matt, Christina, Jessica, Front Row: Ceasar the dog and Anthony.