Whether they're debating the politics of Caesar, the legend of Hercules or the philosophy of Horace, three Doherty Middle School students are quick to agree on one subject: Latin is not dead!
Gary Hinds, 14, Auden Lincoln-Vogel, 13 and John Haak, 14, made Doherty history this month, as the first male middle-school-aged students to earn perfect scores on a global exam testing Latin language skills.
David Hu, 14, an eighth-grader at Wood Hill, also received a perfect score.
Of 135,000 students participating in the exam worldwide, about 1,600 answered all 40 questions correctly.
The students' foreign language teacher, Elizabeth Torosian, says that while Roman vernacular may be ancient, the three eighth-graders prove it is far from becoming outdated.
"After learning Latin, students really see the value when their English skills are tested on major exams," Torosian explains. "They discover how much Latin helps to improve their understanding of vocabulary."
About 65 percent of the English language is derived from Latin roots. In science, law and politics, Latin terminology is still very much alive.
While students who study a foreign language typically earn higher scores on college entrance exams, those who study Latin consistently score higher than most others, according to the College Board.
Getting ahead in class is not the only incentive for students to enroll in Latin.
Tales of mythical gods and goddesses, and real-life heroes and villains, help create for students compelling in-class discussions on the wars, romance, tragedy and triumphs of ancient Rome.
"The Roman mythology interested me," says Haak.
"I liked the culture and history," adds Vogel.
Following an introduction to several foreign languages in the sixth grade, students are required to choose one to concentrate on in seventh and eighth grade.
Torosian says the number of students showing an interest in Latin continues to grow.
"Mythology really piques their interest," says the teacher. "When I'm telling them a story, the room becomes so quiet that by the end you can hear a pin drop."
Among Doherty's 45 students who took the Latin exam, 37 received some kind of recognition.
Next year, Torosian anticipates even better results as her Latin class enrollment is expected to increase to 58 students. Last year, eighth-graders Hannah Gradius and Anne Tucker were the first from Doherty to achieve perfect test scores. Those students are now at Andover High School, where Torosian says advanced placement Latin also continues to draw large groups.
Although the Doherty students say they were "surprised" to hear of their perfect achievement, on a scale from 1 to 10 they unanimously gave the test about a 5 for difficulty.
"It wasn't too hard," says Hinds, who plans to pursue Latin studies at Andover High in the fall.
All three students believe the language, which originated around 535 BC, should continue to prove useful in their academic pursuits.
"Having a background in Latin will make learning a lot of other things easier," Haak adds.
Torosian chocks up the eighth-graders' success to hours of studying, and hopes the benefits of learning a second language will become available in younger grades in the future.
"Foreign languages are a great building skill for making connections in culture, history and human communication," Torosian says.
"At their young ages, these students soak up the information like sponges. The younger we get them in, the better they will be later on because of it.
"Labor omnia vincit." ("Hard work pays off.")