Latin has been called a dead language, but don't tell that to Highland and Palmdale high school students who won gold medals in the National Latin Exam.
Highland produced five gold medalists this year, the most ever since the school began teaching Latin 12 years ago, and Palmdale had three gold medal winners, up from the one gold awarded last year, the school's first.
"It's pretty exciting, obviously, winning a top prize like that. It wasn't much hard work," said Johoney Lobos, 16, a 10th-grader from Palmdale High who won the gold on her first try. "You have to pay attention in class. As long as you pay attention and follow the rules, like any other subject, it's easy when you get the hang of it."
"I really wanted to take Latin because I really like word history, and I like to know the roots of words, and I know it will help on verbal SAT test scores," said Benjamin Bird, an 11th-grader and gold medalist from Highland.
"I don't use it so much as I recognize how it impacts, especially language. Like my little brothers take Spanish. I can sometimes, when reading the Spanish homework, I know what the word means because I know the Latin root," Bird said.
The annual National Latin Exam was given in March to about 135,000 students in the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the Netherlands by the American Classical League, which promotes the study of Latin and Greek among Americans.
About 70 students from Highland and 66 from Palmdale took the multiple-choice exam, which tests students on mythology, basic grammar and reading comprehension.
The gold medalists from Highland were Bird, RaKia Harris, Ted Jarbo, Kelly Manahan and Cory Mitschelen. Palmdale's gold medalists were Lobos, Lillia Green and Jocelyn Kasdorf.
Palmdale High has been offering Latin for six years, and students have been taking the National Latin Exam for three years.
"It's just a very good foundation for anything that a student wants to try," Palmdale Latin teacher Robert Ruckman said. "It improves test scores on SATs by 140 points. It's a good foundation for the English vocabulary. It helps students who want to go into the medical or legal areas. It teaches a lot about the foundation of our Western society."
Latin is offered at Highland, Palmdale and Antelope Valley high schools. There is a shortage of Latin teachers in the country, said Ann Robins, Highland's Latin teacher.
"It is a dead language in that no one speaks it, but it's still the official language of the Vatican. People have discovered recently that we've seen a dip in SAT verbal scores and kids who can't spell and don't understand language structure," Robins said. "Latin is good for that. It builds vocabulary. Half of the words we use are from Latin and about 90 percent of words three syllables or more are from Latin."