The seventh-graders in Meredith Widiker's class at Casper Classical Academy were having a tough time translating some English words to Latin as they worked on a Thanksgiving project last week.
"What is basketball?" a boy asked.
"What is volleyball?" a girl chimed in.
"If you're thankful for any ball game, just put 'pila,'" Widiker said. "The Romans didn't play volleyball."
Widiker has taught Latin at Casper Classical since 1991, when the school first opened. This year is Widiker's last, which leaves principal Marie Puryear in a bit of a bind -- these days, Latin teachers are few and far between.
"It poses quite an issue," Puryear said.
Widiker also acknowledges her shoes will be big ones to fill. Students earning degrees from Latin programs are preparing themselves to teach college-level classes, not middle school students, she said.
"We've been dying out," Widiker joked. "It's so hard to find somebody to step in."
While the number of secondary teachers certified to teach Latin is dropping, the number of schools adding Latin is increasing. Studying the language is proven to develop a larger English vocabulary and achieve higher verbal SAT scores.
The number of students taking the National Latin Exam has increased to more than 134,000 in each of the past two years. In comparison, only 101,000 students took the test in 1998.
The language has also enjoyed increased popularity in part because of the success of J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" books, where Latin is used for names and spells.
Casper Classical requires all seventh- and eighth-graders take Latin, a request parents made when the school was developed, Puryear said. Ninth-graders are allowed to choose between Latin and Spanish, and usually a small number choose to stick with Widiker.
"The kids don't get why we think it's important," Puryear said. "She spends a lot of time showing them it's all around us."
"It really does help with vocabulary," Widiker said. "It helps [students] think logically."
Seventh-grader Megan Barella said she was convinced she'd fail Latin after her very first class. So far, she's earned herself an A in the class.
"I like being able to learn this, instead of maybe Spanish. It's kind of hard to memorize the words at first, until you get used to it," Megan said. "For the most part, it's easy, and Mrs. Widiker helps because she explains it in a way that helps me understand."
Wayne Sayles scripsit:
I was pleased to see your post about the Casper Classical Academy and their success as well as concern for the future
As you may know, the American Classics League has a committee and program specifically oriented toward promoting classical languages, particularly Latin, in the primary grades (perhaps Meredith Widiker is somehow affiliated). The committee chair, who has done award winning work at her own school, St. Louise de Marillac in Pittsburgh, uses genuine ancient coins as a teaching aid. She has also presented several seminars about her coin-related lessons at ACL conventions and workshops. A Google search for "Zee Ann Poerio" will provide plenty of background. Her experience has shown that being able to work with genuine artifacts inspires students to greater heights and draws the interest of parents as well. The result is better education and greater support for educational programs. The ACCG is proud to enjoy the cooperation and assistance of Mrs. Poerio, who for several years now has served on the ACCG's Education and Youth Programs task force and is a shining example that collecting, teaching, learning and concern for the past are not mutually exclusive. Unfortunately, a briefing on this program at one of the Cultural Property Advisory Committee hearings prompted one prominent archaeologist to attack the program and compare it to selling drugs on school grounds. The ACL, nonetheless, is doing very productive work in promoting and facilitating classical education at elementary and middle schools throughout the United States.
We have, of course, mentioned Zee Ann Poerio's efforts in the past in these pages ... see here ... here ... and here ... FWIW, I have always been of the opinion that the quantity of ancient coins that are found and would otherwise sit decaying in a box in the back room of some museum or some archaeologist's closet would be more usefully used to promote study of the ancient world as, ZAP and ACE have been doing ...