GREENFIELD: Saratoga Springs High School student Ciara Byrne’s parents took Latin, her older siblings did too.
She said her younger brother even wants to take it.
Bryne was one of several students and parents to speak recently at a school board meeting regarding the potential loss of the Latin Program in the district.
“What will happen to people who want to take Latin, but are too young?” she said. “The school is deserting them.”
Superintendent Michael Patton said the announcement of the Latin teacher Elthea Sadlon retirement is what has sparked a passionate outcry from students like Byrne and others like sophomore Benjamin Rosan.
“Is it not your duty as educators and administrators to give us, your students, your children the resources we need to become dynamic and constructive workers, thinkers and people?” Rosan asked the board. “Why deny us the chance to grow and learn as much as we can.”
A petition started by Rosan to save the program has garnered almost 500 signatures as of 12:30 p.m. Tuesday.
“We all feel that this class has truly allowed us to embrace the course moto Sumus Familia, meaning “We are Family,’” Rosen said in the petition description. “We demand that our school make the Latin program a priority.”
Whether the program will survive heavily depends on how many students want to participate in the program and whether the district can recruit a teacher for the classes.
“It’s a pretty challenging area to recruit for, just foreign languages overall, let alone Latin,” Patton said. “We’ve been fortunate to have Ms. Sadlon for well over 40 years.”
Patton said the district had difficulty finding a French teacher last year when it needed one. Sadlon is duly certified in the district and is able to teach both Latin and French.
Gloversville Central School District Superintendent David Halloran echoed Patton’s statements on difficulties recruiting in the foreign language department.
“This is especially true with Latin, and we are very grateful to have Dr. (Sara) Watkins on staff,” he said.
Watkins agreed that finding teachers for modern foreign languages like Spanish has been harder.
“With Latin, the candidate pool is certainly smaller than those for modern languages, but hiring is not a lost cause,” she said.
She said many people who apply for Latin teaching positions are from out-of-state or non-traditional candidates.
“Districts can increase their pool by advertising with the appropriate state and national organizations,” she said. “In the last several years, the state education department has also opened up new pathways for certification, which can also help districts hire these candidates if they find a good match.”
Only six districts in the Greater Capital Region teach Latin including Gloversville and Saratoga Springs, according to the state Education Department. The other districts are Bethlehem, North Colonie, Shenendehowa and Niskayuna.
In Saratoga Springs less students have also chosen to participate in Latin over the years, Patton said.
During the 2017-18 school year 144 students were in the program. This school year there are only 47.
“Kids have just so much variety of course work that’s offered to them now than they had previously and that’s where we’ve seen the decline in enrollment in certain subject areas,” Patton said,
It’s unclear how many will pick the subject next year as students have just begun selecting their courses.
Watkins, who is the only Latin teacher in the Gloversville school district, said the number of students participating in the program has remained stable.
Here is a breakdown of the last few years:
2016/17 – 88
2017/18 – 92
2018/19 – 104
2020/21 – 107
2021/22 – 111
2022/23 – 102
“The program begins in 8th grade, where the class is capped around 28; students who don’t start Latin in middle school are generally unable to add Latin to their schedules later in their academic career, so this is also a bit limiting from an enrollment standpoint,” Watkins said.
During the Saratoga Springs school board meeting some students said the district wasn’t doing enough to keep the program alive and get kids interested in it.
Patton said teachers go each year to speak to 8th graders about their language options.
“I understand our kids are passionate about it, but from the teaching perspective and from the department perspective I know they really have made efforts in the past to encourage more kids to get involved,” he said.
Patton said the hope is to find a teacher so that those taking Latin currently can finish out the program, so it doesn’t hamper anyone’s ability to receive the Advanced Regents Diploma, which requires a grade of 65 or higher in a language other than English.