Latin Lives On

0409_payne_latin_22A Lynchburg elementary school offers Latin thanks to Randolph students

Meredith Dougherty ’15 introduces a skit exercise in a Latin class she teaches at the Lynchburg City Schools Gifted Opportunities Center as Will Web ’16 calls on students in his classroom.

Perterreo.

That’s the word that immediately comes to Will Webb ’16 when recalling the first time he stood in front of 25 fifth graders to teach them Latin.

It translates to “I’m terrified,” he said.

0409_payne_latin_05Then a student asked Webb, “When was Latin invented?” and Webb’s brain buzzed with the many different ways of answering the question. The confidence he gained from the student’s interest helped him feel more comfortable teaching.

Today, fear is far from Webb’s mind as he dashes back and forth jotting notes on a flipchart in front of his students, reviewing various forms of puella, the Latin word for “girl.”

“What really gets me excited is when they ask me an amazing question, or they remember something that I had mentioned just in passing a couple of weeks before,” said Webb. “If they want to do this, and I can help them learn Latin, who would not want to teach?”

For four years, Randolph students like Webb have been teaching weekly Latin classes in the Gifted Opportunities (GO) Center operated by Lynchburg City Schools. Classics professor Amy R. Cohen first started discussions about the program when she learned that the school lost its Latin teacher due to budget cuts.

“They saw an opportunity to get Latin back in their program, and we saw an opportunity to get some experience for our students, many of whom go on to become high school Latin teachers,” she said. Lori Smith, a third grade teacher, said something definitely was missing in the one year that the GO Center did not have Latin. Now, she is glad to see her students learning the ancient language again.

“They’re really excited, and they don’t realize how much they’re learning,” she said.

Although Latin is not used for day-to-day communication, studying the ancient language has many applications, Smith said. It helps students understand their own language better by helping them see connections to ancient languages. For example, on a recent field trip to learn about Thomas Jefferson, the students understood one of Jefferson’s inventions, a paper copier called a polygraph (not the 21st century lie detector test). It comes from the Greek words poly, which means “many” and graph, which means “written.”

Meredith Dougherty ’15 has taught Latin at the GO Center for three years. The experience has opened up a new world to her. “I really am more drawn to teaching,” she said, adding that she plans to earn a master’s degree in special education.

Dougherty is not the first Randolph student to decide to become a teacher thanks to the GO Latin program; Cohen is sure that she will not be the last. “The elementary students are exuberant about Latin in a really open way,” she said. “That’s inspiring to our students.”