When volunteer Latin teacher assistant Pam Rocco found out that San Benito High Principal Debbie Padilla had decided to cut the introductory Latin class from its curriculum next year, she acted quickly. Rocco packed as many concerned Latin students and parents as she could find into yesterday’s school board meeting to urge reconsideration of the decision.
Maggie Ritchie, a former SBHS student, urged the board to rethink the decision to drop Latin. Ritchie now attends Columbia College in Chicago and is majoring in poetry.
“I’m aware that there are three languages at SBHS, Spanish, French and Latin,” Ritchie said during her address to the board. “And it makes sense that you’d make the dead language walk the plank.”
Padilla made the decision to drop the class last Friday while preparing a master schedule for next year. The program will be phased out over the next two years due to low student enrollment in the course, Padilla said, although students who took the introductory class last year would be allowed to continue.
The possibility of the move had been discussed throughout the year, but the decision was not made until the final enrollment numbers came in.
“I would like to see a wide-range of languages at San Benito,” Padilla said. “But we have to respond to the needs of the community.”
Latin is the root of many European languages and is still commonly used in the fields of medicine, law and science. Ritchie said that she would not have done nearly as well on standardized tests such as the SATs had she not taken three years of Latin.
Latin teacher Jane Gaylord, who has taught the course for more than a decade, will be teaching English next year in addition to teaching three upper level Latin courses.
Latin helped current SBHS school student Adriana Mariano in a very different way.
“I was born and raised in Mexico and Latin has really helped to improve my English, especially my vocabulary,” Mariano said.
Mariano said that Latin was important for all students, but particularly for those with a Spanish language background.
“They are closing a door for Spanish students,” Mariano said.
Mariano completed Latin II last year and plans to take Latin III this year. Mariano is concerned that she will not be able to finish all four years of the program before it is phased out.
“I think it’s messed up, if they let us start something, they should let us finish it,” Mariano said.
Mariano is not the only one concerned with the plight of Hispanic students at San Benito High School.
During yesterday’s meeting, SBHS district board trustee Evelyn Muro commented on the high number of 10th grade Hispanic students who had not yet passed the California State High School Exit Exam for English Language Arts. Of the 382 Hispanic students who took the test in March only 66 percent passed, compared to the 90 percent passage rate of White students and the 92 percent passage rate of Asian students. Similar statistics for economically disadvantaged students were also presented.
The school has a website, where one can find email addresses of plenty of folks to complain to.