While reciting a prayer in Latin, teacher Joyce Aspatore flubbed some words.
One of her second-graders patted her arm and said, "Don't worry, you'll get it."
"I'm still learning," Aspatore said of teaching at The Highlands Latin School after about 30 years with the Jefferson County Public Schools. "The difference is night and day."
Highlands Latin School bases its entire curriculum on Latin, with many of its teaching materials written by faculty. The school is housed at Crescent Hill Baptist Church but is not affiliated with a particular church.
Its founder, Cheryl Lowe, tutored home-schooled students in Latin for years before opening the school in 2000 with about 50 students. It has grown to 200 students in kindergarten through 12th grade.
Lowe's son and daughter-in-law, Brian and Leigh Lowe, helped her open a publishing house, Memoria Press, for the Latin curriculum she had developed.
The school's "classical Christian education" follows a style more popular 100 years or more ago. It's based on "real books" from the earliest grades, writings that have withstood the test of time, Lowe said.
Those books include "King Arthur," "Farmer Boy," "The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe" and "The Trojan War" for students in grades three through six. The upper grades read a lot of Shakespeare and works by Cicero, Plato and Dante.
Unconventional even in scheduling -- students go to class only three days a week -- the school scored in the 99th percentile earlier this year on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. That means the school scored higher than 99 percent of the schools that took the standardized achievement exam, which tests students in grades K-8 for skills in reading, language and math.
Highlands Latin School had one National Merit finalist and one Governor's Scholar in its 2005 graduating class.
Cheryl Lowe said students can't truly understand English or American history unless they have a basis for comparison. Latin, and the study of ancient Athens and Rome, gives them that comparison, she said.
Latin classes begin in second grade and help students understand the roots of many words they encounter. It also helps them grasp the basis of Western civilization, which gives more meaning to American history, Lowe said.
From there, Latin relates to everything, including the seven skills traditionally considered the "liberal arts": grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music. It's the basis of science and law.
"I always tell kids that after Latin, everything else is easy," Lowe said.
Studying Latin "actually is pretty fun," said Johnny Sweeny, a fourth-grader who attended public school last year.
"If you start Latin in ninth grade, you have to cram everything into four years," said Steven Lang, who teaches Latin and Greek at the school and also is pastor at Hope Lutheran Church.
If you start in second grade, where Lang's daughter is, he said, "… they're language sponges. They just soak it up."
Aspatore said she didn't appreciate the value of memorization when she started at the school, but her second-graders love it.
"They're so proud of themselves," she said. "They'll get up in front of people" to recite.
The Latin School embraces memorization, not only of verb forms and math facts, but of scripture and poetry.
She said one of the differences from her experience at public school is "we don't have to cram so much in."
At this school, she said, she can ensure students have a firm grasp of subjects before moving on: "What they know, they know very well."
Lowe said that she has decided that students need more time to absorb what they're being taught. So starting next year, students in grades three through 12 will attend classes four days a week instead of three.
This year, Monday has been a "reading day" at home for students to prepare for the week's classes. It's also a day for orthodontist appointments and all those things that interfere with class time, Lowe said.
The current schedule means two less days of hectic school mornings, said Laurie Graybeal, whose daughter Brittany is in ninth grade.
Brittany also can be heavily involved in her church because she doesn't have to spend Sundays on homework, her mother said.
Tuesday through Thursday are academic days, and a Friday program of sports and other "extras" is optional.
The trade-off for the shorter class time is a huge load of homework.
"It (the amount of homework) is so much like college that when they get there, college should be easy," said Ann Sweeney, mother of Johnny; Harry, a third-grader; and Nora, who's in kindergarten.
Graybeal said Brittany's homework involves papers and projects "that will take up all the time you're willing to put into them," she said. "Most middle-school kids would be shocked at the amount of homework."
She said Brittany loves it, though, and enjoys having peers to challenge her academically.
"Who she is fits very well with the school," Graybeal said.
Lowe admits the school isn't for everyone. Students there "are kids who want to work hard," she said. "Someone who's in it only for the social activities is not going to be happy here."