Who says Latin is a dead language?
At Blue Valley North High School it’s alive and well.
“I love Latin. Seriously, it is really, really fun,” said sophomore Katie Bergman. “It helps in lots of other classes too, which is good.”
Bergman is not the only student who has taken an interest in the language. More than 150 students at North have signed up for Latin classes, making North’s program one of the largest in the Kansas City metro area.
It’s a growing trend not only in Blue Valley, but across the country.
“I think there’s just a move in education to get back to the basics,” said Matthew Roberts, a Latin teacher at Blue Valley North and Johnson County Community College.
Colleges and universities are becoming more and more competitive, he said, and students are searching for a way to stay ahead.
Latin offers students a way to improve their English grammar and vocabulary skills and gives them a deeper understanding of Roman history and western civilization.
“It’s really two classes. It’s a grammar class, but it is also a history class,” said junior Allyson Shaw.
She started taking Latin her freshman year after searching for something different from the Spanish classes she took in middle school. Shaw always had an interest in ancient history and thought Latin could be a perfect match.
“It is just a beautiful language,” she said.
Blue Valley North Latin teachers said they find students take the class for a variety of reasons.
One of the most common reasons students sign up is to improve or ensure high verbal scores on SAT and ACT college entrance exams, said teacher Kay Rutherford.
If students are able to learn the Latin language, she said, they often become better readers and writers of the English language.
“There’s an increasing concern nationally as well as locally for students to be better readers,” she said.
It’s also a language that is more visually based, so students who learn best by seeing often gravitate toward Latin rather than conversational languages like Spanish or French.
“I really think Latin is the only foreign language option based on visual learning rather than oral learning,” she said.
Roberts said Latin can be difficult, but once it’s mastered it can be a powerful tool to understand languages that are grammatically more simplistic, like English.
“It kind of gives you the power over language,” he said.
And it isn’t just English. Bergman said Latin has helped her understand theories in her math class and Shaw said she can even help her friends with their Spanish vocabulary.
Both students have enjoyed the language so much, they plan to continue in college. Bergman hopes to major in classical studies, while Shaw is considering a minor.
Seeing students get so excited about the language has been fun for Rutherford to watch. She has always loved the language and wanted to major in it in college in the 1960s but because of the language’s decline in popularity, she worried about getting a teaching job. She decided instead to major in English and minor in Latin.
She’s been teaching Latin at Blue Valley North for five years and taught a section of Latin for a year while working in the Shawnee Mission district before making the move.
“When I had the opportunity to come to Blue Valley North and teach Latin it was very exciting, and it is thrilling to be able to pass that interest on to the students and see them excited about the language,” she said.
Rutherford has seen that excitement not only in the classroom but in the school’s popular Latin club as well.
The Junior Classical League of Blue Valley North meets twice a month, dining at area Italian restaurants, designing club T-shirts and watching movies set in ancient times, like “Gladiator.”
“It is really fun,” Bergman said.
The club members also attend the state Latin convention once a year where North students compete against other area Latin students in a variety of areas.
Bergman was a member of the Latin quiz bowl team last year and helped the team finish first.
“It was really fun because it asked a lot of questions about mythology and just Latin words in general,” she said.
Last year, the North team finished in second place overall just behind the team from Shawnee Mission Northwest.
Some years they’ve finished in the number one spot, and they hope to regain the title this year.
Whether they’ll secure their spot at the top remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure: Latin is anything but dead.