Latin is alive and well in the Gloversville Enlarged School District, and is appears likely to remain so even as several area school districts think about cutting their foreign language requirements to the bone next year to close budget gaps.
Gloversville offers five classes in Latin to 100 students in grades eight through 12, and the program is so strong that 16 students — six freshmen and 10 seniors — on Wednesday voluntarily took the National Latin Exam. The exam is a nonmandated offering and provides no credit toward graduation. It is administered worldwide once a year for three weeks, and 137,819 people took the 45-minute test last year.
This is the third year Gloversville Latin teacher Charles Giglio has offered the exam to his students and the first time he allowed freshmen to take it. Students prepare for the test through regular classroom work as well as after-school sessions.
“I push my students to achieve at higher levels. The test is voluntary, but I encourage students to do it,” Giglio said.
The number of people who took it this year will not be available until the exams are processed, but “we had more registered students than ever before,” said Janine Kuty, office manager for the National Latin Exam. “There seems to be a resurgence in schools and a resurgence in interest in general with Latin,” she said.
Gloversville is one of 174 schools in the state to offer Latin to help students meet their foreign language requirement for a Regents diploma, according to the state Education Department. In the Capital Region, schools in Albany, Schenectady and Saratoga counties also offer Latin as a second language.
In New York state, Latin ranks fourth as a foreign language taught in schools. Italian is third, offered in 370 schools; French is second, offered in 1,150 schools; and Spanish is first, offered in 2,123 schools. There are 700 school district in the state, each of which may contain one or more elementary, middle and high schools offering the language.
Gloversville also offers Spanish and French. State requirements are that students take three years of a foreign language to obtain a Regents diploma.
As local school boards grapple with budget gaps and a state-mandated tax cap for the 2012-2013 academic year, several are considering proposal to scale back foreign language offerings to state mandates, which is one foreign language. Broadalbin-Perth Central School District, for example, is considering eliminating French as a second language to close a $2.4 million budget gap, leaving the district with one foreign language on its schedule next year.
Giglio said the teaching of Latin is a tradition in Gloversville going back at least 50 years. “The parents of my students have taken it, some of the grandparents have taken it,” he said. There was a period about six years ago when Gloversville eliminated Latin. But community advocacy brought it back. “I am proud of the parents wanting to support the foreign language program,” he said.
To Giglio, Latin is not a dead language, which is a language not learned as a native language. “Latin is not a conversational language, but 60 percent to 70 percent of English comes from Latin. If you are studying and speaking English, you are studying and speaking Latin,” he said. “A good grasp of Latin allows you to have a good grasp of the underpinnings of the English language.”
He added that studying Latin “helps you think better. It is a complex language because it has a lot of endings and it helps you expand your thinking capacity. Latin students do well on standardized exams, and it helps special education students because it is structured.”
Students who want to take Latin in Gloversville have to be cleared by the guidance department, but the program is open to all students, including special educations students, Giglio said.
The Gloversville students who took the National Latin Exam are high achievers, most of whom are also active in sports and music programs offered by the school.
Cody Webber, a senior, said he took Latin to help make him a well-rounded student. This was his third National Latin Exam, having once received the third-highest honor in completing it.
“You don’t just learn about a language itself, but its effect on every culture after the Latin period,” Webber said. “It is important for students to have options, and Latin is one of my favorite courses in school.”
Freshman Justin Unislawski took the test this year for the first time. “I took Latin because it seemed interesting at the time. I want to go into the medical field. I think I did pretty good,” he said.