When Kristin Vines considered which foreign language to study in high school, she made her choice through a process of elimination.
"I was afraid of French because of the spelling, the German teacher was very scary looking and Spanish was boring," she said. "So I took Latin."
Now Ms. Vines, 47, teaches the language to seventh- and eighth-graders at Baylor School, and said she still has a love for Latin after more than 25 years of teaching.
"Latin is a really good vehicle to learn vocabulary, grammar and a lot of cultural shadings and intonations, because it never changes," she said.
Thirty years ago many schools in Hamilton County taught Latin, but today only three schools offer the language: Signal Mountain Middle School, and Red Bank and Soddy-Daisy high schools. Some area private schools such as Baylor, Girls Preparatory School, McCallie School and Chattanooga Christian School also offer Latin courses.
Ava Warren, Hamilton County's director of curriculum and instruction, said the decline in Latin offerings throughout the district is tied to the difficulty of finding qualified instructors and lagging student interest.
"It's up to the principal (what language is taught), but a lot of times they give course offerings and if not enough people sign up for it, they offer different ones," Dr. Warren said.
Rick Hitchcock, a 1971 graduate of Red Bank High School, said he doesn't remember having a choice whether to take Latin, but said in hindsight he is glad he did.
"I'm a lawyer, so there are things we still do that have shorthand phrases that are Latin in nature," he said. "It's helpful to understand the meaning or root."
Becky Browder, a classmate of Mr. Hitchcock's at Red Bank, said she doesn't regret having taken Latin, but does wonder if it was the most practical choice.
"I do think that it has helped me because of knowing the root words, it's been beneficial," she said. "But in looking back, I'm thinking, 'Why did I spend so much time on a language that I don't speak?' "
The fact that Latin no longer is a spoken language is part of its appeal, Ms. Vines said.
"People talk about Latin being a dead language, and it is dead," she said. "But that means the rules don't change. I know that a verb will always mean the same thing; it will never change on me."
Mr. Hitchcock said he can understand why public schools here would focus on teaching Spanish with the area's fast-growing Hispanic population. Catering to that demand, however, has changed the focus of learning, he said.
"Education has shifted from a more liberal arts focus to a more utilitarian focus," he said. "Now we focus on learning only things that we can use, and in a lot of ways I think that's kind of unfortunate. There's a lot of value in a liberal arts education."