Language Pupils Do As Romans Did
Latin Lessons Give Lake Forest Kids Head Start On English, French And Spanish.
Rummana Hussain, Tribune Staff Writer.
Chicago Tribune: September 19, 2000
Forget Ricky Martin, Enrique Iglesias and Jennifer Lopez.
The “Latin invasion” that has captivated hundreds of Lake Forest elementary school pupils is anchored in the ancient poetry and prose of Horace, Cicero and Catullus.
“Now I can say goodbye to my brother and parents in the morning in Latin,” Kevin Bartlett, 8, beamed after his half-hour foreign language lesson at Sheridan School.
For the first time, the classical language is being taught to all of Lake Forest School District 67’s 1st, 2nd and 3rd graders.
School officials in the North Shore city have wanted to add a foreign language component to the lower grades’ curriculum for years. Budget restrictions, however, dictated that only one language could be taught to the 750 pupils in the three grades.
Though Spanish and French seemed the obvious choices for early instruction, after much research and debate, school officials concluded that Latin was the most logical choice, said District 67 Supt. Harry Griffith.
The Latin program at the prestigious Decatur Classical School on Chicago’s Northwest Side helped convince administrators that the so-called dead language could best prepare pupils for the future.
“We learned that children taking Latin in primary grades were getting a head start in the English language. … And we also recognized that Latin is 90 percent of the foundation in Spanish and French,” Griffith said.
The oral lessons will enhance the skills of the pupils when they enter 4th grade, when they can opt to study Spanish, French or Latin as their foreign language elective, said Alana Mraz, the district’s director of curriculum. Those languages have been taught in the upper grades for several years.
So far, the lessons, which mingle the language with popular culture, have proved to be a hit.
“It’s fun,” said Holly Wark, 7. “You get to learn new words in Latin.”
“I like it because it’s closer to my language,” said 2nd grader Jovan Milovanovic, who speaks Serbian at home.
Before classes began, some parents had expressed concerns about Latin’s practical applications, said Latin teacher Pam Harper.
Harper uses a stuffed “Arthur” as a Latin class mascot. To give him more Romanesque characteristics, Harper dresses the bespectacled aardvark from the children’s popular book and TV series with a tunic and laurel leaf.
“We’re trying to make it fun and entertaining at the same time,” Harper said.
“Salve!” one group of 2nd graders greeted “Arthur” upon learning recently about the singular and plural forms of the Latin word for “hello.” “Arthur” was later placed in a circle formed by the children when they played a variation of the hot-potato game for another lesson.
The pupils later screamed with delight when Harper, standing next to a bulletin board with a yellow smiling face urging pupils to Habe Fortunatum Diem, or “Have a Good Day,” gave the boys and girls their Latin names.
Giggles ensued as “Kevin” was transformed to “Kevinus” and “Molly” was given the noble moniker “Mollia.”
Harper said as the year progresses, the children will also be given lessons about ancient Roman culture.
“They’re so proud of themselves, that they speak a foreign language,” she said.