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Latin alive in Maine schools, but future is of concern

PORTLAND, Maine --Latin may be called a dead language, but it's alive and well in Maine classrooms.

Latin courses that were eliminated in schools during the 1970s and 1980s have been revived, leading to a "mini-resurgence" in Maine over the past decade, said Benjamin Johnson, president-elect of the Maine Classical Association, a professional organization for educators. At some schools, students are lining up for the chance to study the language.

One concern now, however, is that Maine may not have enough new Latin teachers to replace the current ones when they retire. The state lists 60 Latin teachers in Maine, but few college students nowadays major in the classics, and those that do tend to stay in academia rather than teach at the high school level, Johnson said.

Students are being encouraged to consider a career teaching Latin, he said. How best to do that will be among the topics discussed at the Maine Classical Association's annual spring conference, scheduled for Saturday at Thornton Academy in Saco.

While Latin is known as a dead language because no one speaks it as a native tongue, there are more than 50 Latin programs at public and private high schools in Maine.

Latin was the language of ancient Rome and remains the official language of Vatican City. Teachers and students say the study of Latin helps with everything from laying a foundation for other languages to boosting SAT scores to figuring out the meaning of the spells in Harry Potter books.

At Hampden Academy, where Johnson is one of two Latin teachers, nearly one in four of the 750 students take Latin.

Scarborough High School last year had a waiting list for first-year Latin, said Shane Davis, the school's Latin teacher. This year 50 students are taking beginning Latin, and almost as many are taking higher-level courses.

"It's a zombie language. It's kind of undead," said Paul Bayley, 16, a Scarborough High School junior. "It's awesome. You learn so much."

But the difficulty in finding new teachers is one reason York High School plans to drop its Latin program when its current Latin teacher retires at the end of this school year, according to Maryann Minard, curriculum director for the York schools.

Minard said the school district believes Latin has educational value. But other factors, including limited financial resources and few students taking Latin in a school of more than 660, prompted the decision to cut the program, she said.


Information from: Portland Press Herald,