Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Habesne Latinam?

In the School District of University City the answer to that question (which, by the way, is “Got Latin?” for those of us less educated) is a resounding HABEO (YES)! While the notion of studying this classical language may conjure up images of stodgy old tweed-clad professors and British school boys, this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, Latin in U. City is COOL and our Latin students (not to mention teachers) are young, hip, and love learning about language, history, and culture.

One of only six districts in the St. Louis area to offer AP (advanced placement) Latin, students in U. City can begin taking Latin formally in the sixth grade, although many are exposed at much younger ages thanks to outreach programs by the high school’s Latin Club. Courses are offered at all levels through high school, culminating with the AP (Advanced Placement) Latin for seniors. In addition to the coursework offered during the school day, UCHS has an active and energetic aforementioned Latin Club, which meets weekly after school , and many students are involved in the Missouri Junior Classical League (MOJCL), hosts a Winter Classics Fest, and stages fun events like the annual Homerathon (a marathon reading from the works of Homer) in the Delmar Loop.

UCHS Latin Students (along with the head of Pentheus)
prepare to leave for national convention. 
UCHS Latin Club students bring home numerous awards each year at the state convention of the Missouri Junior Classical League, held in April in Columbia (view the cheeky convention trailer here). You can read about this year's attendees and their accomplishments in our previous blog post. UCHS also sends a delegation to the National Junior League Convention each year. This year students will travel to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, to attend the 60th annual NCJL convention.

Latin Club students march in the UCHS Homecoming parade

So why, you may ask, as we speed though the 21st Century, should students study a “dead” language like Latin? There are lots of reasons, according to UCHS Latin teacher Jennifer Whinney:

“It is important for kids to study Latin because it emphasizes the importance of the mechanics and structure of language while exposing them to ancient culture and history. Learning Latin leads to improvement in English skills like grammar and reading. It also exposes students to great authors like Ovid and Vergil that they may not read in English classes. “

Numerous studies show that students who have taken Latin consistently outperform all other students on the verbal portion of the SAT, have higher grade point averages, accelerated reading and vocabulary skills, improved math problem solving abilities, improved study skills and greater knowledge of ancient history and culture. Lots of famous people have studied Latin, including popular authors J.K. Rowling and Toni Morrison, poet Langston Hughes, Coldplay singer Chris Martin, civil rights leader W.E.B. DuBois, and former president Bill Clinton (in fact, most former presidents studied Latin.) It is not surprising, therefore, that many of the top academics in the 2013 senior class are Latin students. Still not convinced? Check out this or this or this.

UCHS sophomore Andrew White acknowledges the academic aspects of studying Latin:

"There are lots of Latin roots in English and romance languages so by taking Latin you are learning several languages for the price of one”, but he also appreciates how a good teacher can make it fun, "Learning about the history and mythology is also very interesting if the teacher assigns creative and fun projects. It can be fun to give these classic stories a new twist by filming updated versions, with friends playing gods, for example. We once even cast a cat as the cyclops."

2013 graduating senior and Latin student Grace Deitzler is heading to Missouri S&T this fall to study Biological Sciences and Information Technology. She credits her study of Latin with greatly expanding her scientific vocabulary and her familiarity with terms common in her coursework. Plus, she says, she had a lot of fun.

To be sure, Latin classes are academically challenging. Students must master vocabulary and grammar and derivatives and declensions and lots of translating, along with a serious dose of Roman history, culture, and mythology. But the magic of our Latin classes, the secret ingredient that has made them so popular for so many years, is that the kids have fun. Serious fun, of the kind that spawns a deep and abiding love of learning, not just Latin but across all subjects and disciplines. but our marvelous teachers. Plus, and perhaps most importantly, UCHS Latin students have fun and develop a genuine love of learning.

Our Latin program is something we can be really proud of. In fact, all four UCHS 2013 Valedictorians were Latin students and even incorporated Latin into their commencement speech. 2011 UCHS grad Elliot Wilson (who was president of both Missouri Junior Classical League and the National Junior Classical League while a student at UCHS) loved Latin so much that he is now studying classics at Harvard University! Latin produces top students, and top students love Latin. If you ask them why they study Latin they may well tell you, Ad Vitam Paramus (we are preparing for life), and they truly are!

Many thanks to Brittany Woods Middle School teachers Wu Bakeman and Thomas Riesenberger and UCHS teacher Jennifer Whinney for their help with this post!

1 comment:

  1. The Latin programs in U. City are fantastic. My kids loved taking Latin.