Many Valley students today learn Spanish in school, but some are opting for the classical language their parents studied: Latin.
It's considered a dead language, but it's still alive in about 20 Valley schools, where students say it helps them improve their grammar, score higher on the SATs and even learn Spanish and other languages.
Studying the language isn't all drudgery, either.
Students in Valley schools threw pool noodles like javelins, created Roman-style artwork and recited poems at the Arizona Junior Classical League's state Latin competition last month at Phoenix Country Day School.
Grace Ballor, 16, of Mesa went to the games with her Tempe Preparatory Academy classmates.
"It was a good experience. They had a lot of Roman culture there that we were able to get exposed to," said Ballor, who has taken Latin and now studies Greek. She said learning Latin has helped her greatly.
"It's helped me not only with English and grammar but also with being able to learn other languages readily," she said. "The culture is very interesting. The Roman Empire influenced much of our world today."
Studying Latin helps students interpret unfamiliar words to boost their scores on the verbal sections of the SAT and Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards test, said Ron Bergez, headmaster for Tempe Preparatory Academy. AIMS is a requirement for students to graduate high school in Arizona.
Students are required to take Latin in Grades 7 and 8 at Tempe Preparatory Academy.
"It's such a structured kind of language to study, it builds up a logical way of thinking in general," Bergez said. "You understand roots of words, prefixes and suffixes.
"There's a lot of vitality in Latin. It's absolutely fundamental to studying the Romance languages," including Spanish, Italian and French, he said.
Latin lives on in Valley schools
About 20 schools in the Valley, including ones in Scottsdale, Tempe, Ahwatukee and Phoenix, offer Latin classes. Teachers and students say that although it's not spoken in modern society, Latin helps improve grammar, boost SAT scores and make it easier to learn Spanish. It's also a fun diversion, they say.
Here are some ways teachers and students keep Latin alive:
Tempe Preparatory Academy: The seventh- through 12th-grade charter school, which emphasizes liberal arts, requires seventh- and eighth-graders to take Latin. High school students can choose to take it in Grades 9 and 10 and then study Greek in Grades 11 and 12 there.
• About 60 eighth-graders made food inspired by ancient Roman recipes during an in-school feast at the school on May 1, Latin teacher and Academic Dean Kerstin Byorni said.
• Tempe Preparatory students in seventh-, eighth- and high school grades participated in the Arizona Junior Classical League's state Latin competition last month at Phoenix Country Day School. They took home awards, including ones for answering quiz bowl-style questions about Latin grammar, history and mythology, Byorni said.
She said students often show how studying Latin has helped them on the SAT and AIMS test.
"I have students every year who will come running up to me and say, 'There was this word I had never seen before and I really looked at it and I noticed it had a Latin root that I recognized,' " Byorni said. "We go over (Latin) grammar very, very thoroughly. That really cements their English grammar skills and vocabulary as well."
Tempe Preparatory Academy junior Sarah Rubenstein, 17, said taking Latin "helped my vocabulary exponentially." She and a friend put together a clothing line with Latin phrases on them for fun.
Tempe Preparatory junior Grace Ditsworth, 17, said she really enjoyed taking Latin at the school.
"If I planned to go into law or medicine, it would definitely help me with memorizing the terms," she said.
Saguaro High School, Scottsdale: About 75 students are enrolled in the four Latin classes, electives at the school, said Charles Bailey, Latin teacher there.
"It does develop a certain systematic way to approach your studies," Bailey said. "It helps in vocabulary building on SATs, reading and stuff of that nature."
Bailey said a Saguaro graduate who now attends University of Arizona told him that studying Latin has alleviated some of the fears he had about learning a foreign language, Chinese, when he moves to China next year.
Desert Vista High School, Ahwatukee: This year the school has 80 students in its Latin classes, which are not required, a jump from only 33 who took it last school year, said Sarah Palumbo, Latin teacher there. She said she expects 160 Latin students next school year.
A 16-member student team took a first-place award at the state Latin competition last month. Two Desert Vista freshmen - Charley Rowland and David Gilmore - will compete at a national Latin convention in late July to early August in Indiana, Palumbo said.
About 50 students at the school earned awards in the National Latin Exam in March, she said.
Desert Vista sophomore Kathryn Zurmehly, 16, got a perfect score on the test.
"I took Spanish for a few years," she said. "I like Latin much better. I like the way it sounds and the way the structure works."
Phoenix Country Day School: The private school infuses Latin into its eighth- and ninth-grade English classes and offers it as an elective for Grades 9 through 12, said Robin Anderson, Latin teacher and modern- and classical- language department chairwoman.
About 70 high school students take Latin at the Phoenix school, she said.
"It's very popular," Anderson said. "When you read the stories from the classical period, to them it's so different from what they think of now. It almost all seems to be fiction."
Students at the school read Homer's The Iliad and The Odyssey and The Aeneid by Virgil, Anderson said.