Under the tutelage of a single passionate teacher, Pat Schread, Wilbur Cross High School has dominated the National Latin Exam and State Latin Exam this year.
Half of the 60 Latin students at Wilbur Cross took top spots in their categories in the National Exam; 10 ranked in the highest level, with eight of those 10 earning gold medals
The gold medal is the highest award, for those who achieve nearly perfect scores.
The students competed against 134,000 students around the world who took the 28th National Latin Exam in March.
Just 396 of the 5,860 students taking the test in Connecticut earned gold medals.
The National Classical League and the American Junior Classical League jointly sponsor the National Latin Exam. The National Latin Exam Committee is based in Fredericksburg, Va.
"It didn’t surprise me that we did so well. It’s all because of the teacher," said Principal Bob Canelli.
Schread has taught Latin for 20 years out of her 37-year teaching career.
"I’m the only Latin teacher here," she said. Latin may have a low profile, but students spread the word that Schread makes Latin a great class.
She often develops a close bond with students, attending their ball games or watching them perform in school plays, Canelli said.
Kay Hill, supervisor of New Haven’s World Language program, said that she sat in on Schread’s class and immediately grasped why students learn so much and love the class.
"We were flipping from culture to grammar to government. It’s rapid-fire. It’s like basketball Latin," Hill said.
Schread credits her students’ achievement to their hard work and to a game called Latin Jeopardy, which forces students to quickly answer questions about Latin language, culture, history and government.
She also conveys that contagious enthusiasm certain teachers have for their subjects.
"I love Latin; I love words and mythology," Schread said.
The students say that since they’ve studied Latin, other classes have become easier.
More than two-thirds of the English, French, Spanish and Italian vocabulary has Latin roots.
The language also tends to help those who pursue careers in medicine and law, fields awash in esoteric, Latin-derived words.
"It’s one of the best things to help with foreign languages," said Tim Flanagan, 17, a junior who said he took Schread’s class at his sister’s recommendation.
"When you learn stuff in this class, you can use it in other classes like English," said Jonathan Nelson, 16, a junior.
"It helps with your SATs," said Aisha Bobb-Semple, 18, a senior who will attendMassachusetts Institute of Technology this fall.
All three landed at the top tier, called first place, of Level II in the National Latin Exam.
The gold medal winners at the National Latin Exam also include Laura Visochek, Zachary Chernes, Samantha Reaves, Jeffrey Hardin and Sophie Bradburn.
Roxana Blandon and Samuel Umberti took first-place certificates, the top honor for the introductory level Latin test.
Blandon and Frank Pagan also placed first in the state Latin Exam, which Schread considers much more demanding than the national exam.
The Classical Language Association of Connecticut sponsors the state exam.
The National Committee for Latin and Greek claims that Latin students score higher than other students on the verbal section of the Scholastic Aptitude Test: In 1997, Latin students in the United States reached a mean score of 647 on the verbal section of the SAT, 142 points higher than the national average of 505.
Latin students achieve higher scores on the verbal section of the SAT than students of German, Russian, French and Spanish, according to the committee’s Web site at www.promotelatin.org.
While many consider Latin a dead language used in the Catholic church and by classics scholars, students in New Haven public schools have been flocking to study Latin.
Seventy nine students study Latin at Wilbur Cross, 44 study Latin at the Sound School, and a whopping 332 study Latin at Hill Regional Career High School.
Career High has turned Latin into a requirement.
Even students in the middle school have been learning Latin. At Jackie Robinson, 25 seventh-graders and 25 eighth-graders study Latin.
At Martin Luther King School, 103 students study Latin starting in the second grade.
Across the state, the number of students in kindergarten through 12th grade studying Latin climbed from 4,794 to 7,290 in 2004, rising steadily until 2003 when the numbers peaked at 7,597.
The decline in the number of Latin students this year resulted from a lack of Latin classes rather than lack of demand, said Mary Ann Hansen, a world languages consultant at the state Department of Education.
"Demand is going up, but there is a shortage of Latin teachers and budget problems. That’s true for all foreign languages taught in schools," Hansen said.