KNIGHTDALE — Latin is not a dead language at Knightdale High School where students create Roman plays and translate Latin roots to master tough English vocabulary.
And the program has spread as fast as the fire that devastated Rome during Nero’s mythical fiddling.
“Many people might not expect an ancient language to have such a hold on a relatively new high school in eastern Wake County,” said Latin teacher Michele DeCamp. “Even I have been amazed at the growing popularity of the new program.”
Started three years ago with 40 students, the Latin progam now has about 100, said DeCamp. She’s seen classes double from three to six classes.
“It’s great if you’re going to learn how to speak lots of languages,” said Jon Hughes, 18, a senior. “It helps you with Spanish, French, Italian, and of course, English.”
Hughes plans to minor in Latin in college.
Latin also translates into mastering difficult vocabulary, Hughes said.
He figured out that nocturnal means night on an English vocabulary test because the Latin root noct also means night.
“It’s really interesting,” said junior Maria Juarez, 17. “We learn about the Roman culture and how they talked.”
Junior Chris Deese, 17, was struck by the fact that gladiators sometimes committed suicide to avoid fighting. “I never knew that,” he said.
Gladiators, who were slaves, were treated like pieces on an Emperor’s game board and could be ordered to fight to the death, Deese said.
A gladiator might escape such a fight if he was a crowd pleaser.
Sophomore Kelli Watkins, 15, enjoyed seeing how modern culture took its cues from the ancient civilization. Romans had apartments, water to drink and bathe with drawn from giant tubs used to collect rainwater and even shopping malls, she said. All this fascination leads to enthusiasm.
During Latin Appreciation Week last week students spread the word.
Latin phrases were posted throughout the school. They painted the school rock with the famous Latin phrase, “veni, vidi, vici”: “I came, I saw, I conquered.”
Students could send their friends “Toga-grams,” Latin messages with translation written on small scrolls.
And information about the Latin culture and language was given each morning in school announcements.
On Friday, students recreated the Ides of March death of Julius Ceasar, an emperor in 100 B.C.
“What better day to do it than Friday the 13th,” said DeCamp before the production in the school’s gym.
Plays like this are what drew Daquon Dunn, 16, into the program.
“You get to perform before an auditorium filled with people,” he said.
In the performance before the death of Julius Ceasar — a re-enactment of a Roman wedding — DeCamp had to turn students away because so many were interested in attending.
“There’s not a lot of flash to it,” said DeCamp. “It’s Roman history and culture.”
The school’s Latin Club is one of the most visible clubs on campus. The school’s Junior Classical League has more members than any other league in the county, DeCamp said.
Latin is taught at 15 of the 22 high schools in Wake County Public Schools.
“The language itself is very complex,” DeCamp said. “There are grammatical forms that students haven’t seen in a while if ever.”
But that hasn’t curbed mastery and excellence. DeCamp said 30 students took the National Latin Exam last week. Students scored well, she said, with 10 students earning national medals of excellence last year, the highest honor.