A sign taped to the concrete-block wall of Candy Hahs' classroom reads: "To learn a new language is to acquire a new soul."
If that's true, Hahs' students at Saxony Lutheran High School are acquiring a soul to which fewer and fewer young people in Southeast Missouri are exposed.
Saxony Lutheran is the only school in Cape Girardeau County that still offers Latin as a regular class. But at the end of this year, the classes there will also extinguish with the retirement of Hahs.
"Learning Latin is like putting a puzzle together. I've always liked that," said Hahs. While it's now more likely to be taught in parochial schools, Latin was a staple in public schools at one time.
Hahs taught at Central High School in Cape Girardeau until her first retirement. Latin at Central ended with her leaving because a replacement teacher could not be found for the salary offered.
Other local schools have faced the same problem and found the same solution: discontinuing the language.
The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages reported in 1990 that 163,923 public high school students, about 1.5 percent, studied Latin. In 2000, 177,477 public high school students, 1.3 percent, took the language course.
But for now, Latin is alive and well in Hahs' classroom at Saxony. Some of her students are in their fourth year of studying Latin.
On Monday, Hahs warned her third-year Latin students to study the story of Romulus and Remus for an upcoming test.
"Think of it, you're part of a dying breed," she said. "You know how Rome was founded."
Latin was a required course at Saxony until this year. Many students continued to take it though, mainly because they enjoy having Hahs as a teacher.
But that's not the only reason.
"It's fun to learn where English words come from," said senior Justin McCollem. "You can take the same word and just change the end or beginning a little and it's a totally different word."
There's another reason McCollem signed up for the class. Next year, he'll be a pre-medical student at college and he believes the Latin background will help with medical vocabulary.
The students have found the language isn't as intimidating as it initially seems.
"Once you start learning, it really flows along," said sophomore Staci Floyd.
Hahs said the real significance of learning Latin is the vocabulary basis it provides.
"The students aren't going to go somewhere and have any long conversations in Latin these days," said Hahs. "The value for students is the background is gives them."