How Latin is taught at Wakefield (North Carolina)

RALEIGH – At times you might not be sure whether you’re in a Latin class or an art class in Karen Guy’s classroom at Wakefield High School.

Guy’s Latin students frequently can be found sprawled on the classroom floor or out in the hallway applying their drawing skills.

But there’s a method to Guy’s approach, which might explain why recently she was named the K-12 Teacher of the Year by the Foreign Language Association of North Carolina (FLANC).

“Latin is not just translating conversations,” said Guy, whose room is adorned with posters about ancient Rome. “It’s history and culture — Roman history and the evolution of the English language.”

Guy has been trying to make Latin fun for Wakefield students since she started teaching there when the school opened in 2000.

Karen Tharrington, the former Second Language department chairwoman at Wakefield, credits Guy’s enthusiasm with stimulating interest in Latin at the North Raleigh school.

What started with one class of 25 students has expanded into 150 students a semester with a second Latin teacher hired to handle the demand.

“All the other languages come from Latin,” said Malik Webb, 15, a sophomore at Wakefield and one of Guy’s students. “Learning this was a better choice. Plus, it will help me with the SAT.”

The growing popularity of Latin at Wakefield is matched by a national resurgence.

The number of students taking Advanced Placement Latin exams has risen 50 percent this decade, reaching 8,700 in 2007.

More than 150,000 students in the United States applied to take the National Latin Exam in 2008, compared to 6,000 in 1977.

Latin is the third-most-taught foreign language in North Carolina public schools, after Spanish and French.

It has turned into a perfect match for Guy, who has been intrigued by Latin since she was a fifth-grader studying vocabulary. She kept noticing that many of the words had Latin roots.

Guy became hooked on Latin when she took the language for the first time in eighth-grade. It soon turned into a desire to become a Latin teacher to share her love of the classical language with other students.

But Guy doesn’t teach it the way she learned it, which was heavy on translations. Her students will still translate Julius Caesar’s speeches. But she’ll also have them read Latin stories and draw them, complete with Latin captions.

Guy said the drawings have turned into a good release for her students.

Guy has helped ease Ally Prior’s fears about learning Latin.

“She’s amazing,” said Prior, 16, a junior. “I was scared that Latin was going to be so hard. She explains everything so well.”

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