EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 25, 2006

Keeping a dead language alive:Haverhill High students embrace Latin, follow a regional trend

By Shelley J. Thompson

It may be a dead language, but Pinkerton Academy students are signing up for Latin classes in larger numbers than ever before.

"Latina est scelesta," is the slogan on T-shirts worn by students at the Derry, N.H., high school where the ancient language is making a comeback. Translation: "Latin is wicked hot."

Haverhill High School students and teachers have known that all along. While Latin enrollment in some area communities has dipped and then made a comeback - as in Pinkerton's case - Haverhill High classes have held steady.

Haverhill High has always been focused on Latin and currently offers six Latin classes with a total of 105 students, said Bernard Nangle, acting principal and former head of the school's world languages and social studies department.

The number of Latin classes and students enrolled has remained close to 100 over the years, and the students taking it learn more than a language, Nangle said.

"It's one of those classes that gives you history and special context," he said. "It's a good basis for anyone in a government course, social studies. All things Western come out of it."

He also said Latin fulfills a college admissions requirement for a language or social studies class.

Pinkerton Academy - the high school for the New Hampshire communities of Derry, Chester and Hampstead - has seen increased enrollment in its Latin program in recent years. While school enrollment has dipped slightly, Latin teacher Mat Olkovikas said the school had to add classes to accommodate the program's 50 to 75 new students. Between 200 to 250 Pinkerton students are now enrolled in Latin.

Pinkerton isn't the only area school that offers Latin - Londonderry and Salem high schools in New Hampshire, and Lawrence and Haverhill also have thriving programs - but Pinkerton is the only one that has seen such a dramatic increase in the number of students studying the language.

Though few people speak Latin anymore, students said they are drawn to the language because it helps with SAT scores and vocabulary, and they are looking for something other than the traditional foreign languages.

Teachers at Pinkerton said there is no clear reason why the Latin program is growing so quickly, other than that they have been actively marketing the program to incoming freshmen in recent years.

Last year, junior Alison Reichard and other Pinkerton students visited Derry's Gilbert H. Hood Middle School to talk to eighth-graders about Latin. She said some of the eighth-graders didn't know Pinkerton offered Latin until the visit.

Olkovikas said he hopes to visit both Derry middle schools as well as the schools in Hampstead and Chester to introduce the eighth-graders to Latin in the future.

Even at schools that haven't seen a tremendous increase in the number of students studying Latin, enrollment has remained strong.

Latin teacher Flora Sapsin started the Londonderry High School program more than two decades ago with a handful of students. Now, the school's program has about 150 students. She said the program's enrollment has remained steady in recent years.

At Salem, N.H., High School, about 60 students are enrolled in Latin at three different levels, humanities Director James Slobig said.

Pinkerton juniors Reichard, Ian Lonergan and Kate Middleton all had their own reasons for taking Latin. Reichard wants to be a veterinarian. Lonergan has always wanted to take an ancient language. And Middleton wanted to take something different.

Now that they are in the program, the students say they like the smaller classes and the fact that they get to speak in English - the classes focus on reading and writing. Students taking French, Spanish, German or Russian have to speak the language.

Latin classes aren't just about conjugating verbs, the students say. Reichard said they learn a lot about Roman and Greek mythology, culture and philosophy.

The students read in Latin from the first day of beginner Latin, Olkovikas said. In the second year of the program they read poems and literature in Latin. By Latin IV, students are reading Cicero and Virgil.

"It allows you to flex your mental muscles," Sapsin said.

She and Olkovikas said about 60 percent of English comes from Latin. And the students can see it when they get vocabulary lists from their English teachers.

What makes Latin cool

Learning a language meets a college admissions requirement

Helping understand difficult vocabulary, especially on the SATS

The history of Rome is part of the course

Better understanding Western Civilization because much of it is based on Roman government and culture