Ancient Roman culture is alive and well in the hallways of Hayfield Secondary School.
A team of 12 students from the school recently made a splash at the state convention of the Virginia Junior Classical League, reflecting a growing love for the ways of the Romans on the part of middle- and high-school students at Hayfield.
“I like the mythology and the history, learning about Roman life,” said eighth-grade student Justin Kirkland. At the Nov. 21-22 convention, Kirkland was one of 13 award-winners from Hayfield, taking seventh place in the state on a 100-question test on Latin vocabulary among students in Latin I.
The total of 13 awards is up from four awards earned by Hayfield students at last year’s state convention, and Latin teacher Irina Greenman couldn’t be happier.
“I’m so proud of these kids that I could explode,” said Greenman, who teaches four levels of Latin — Latin I, II, III, and IV/Advanced Placement — at the school. In addition, she sponsors the school’s Junior Classical League (JCL) club. A branch of the American Classical League, the JCL is an organization of junior- and senior-high students that encourages an interest in and appreciation of the language and culture of ancient Greece and Rome. According to the NJCL Web site, over 50,000 students belong to the club in the United States, Canada and Australia.
At Hayfield, membership is currently at 42 students, but a showing like one at last month’s convention may boost enrollment, said Greenman.
“It’s a huge difference in the excitement and enthusiasm this year,” she said.
HAYFIELD STUDENTS Andrew Ofsonka and Ben Henkel were both first-place winners at the convention, with Ofsonka winning in the Level II academic quiz competition, and Henkel taking first in Level III and placing in four other awards in the categories of Classical Geography, Roman life, Latin literature, and Roman history. Also winning awards were Andrew Roth, Esther Rhee and Leanne Hanson.
“It’s just a lot of fun,” said sophomore Chris Kenedy, who took fourth in Latin sight-reading, and a pair of 10th places. “There’s no such thing as sleep when you’re at the convention. You don’t want to waste a moment while you’re there. You run around like a maniac trying to get to all the events, to do anything you can to get the most out of the experience.”
Attendance at the convention is open to all students who are in the JCL at Hayfield, and Greenman said that this year many of her students decided to study hard for the tests, which she believed benefited their performance
“You can go and have fun and relax, which is what I recommend for [a student's] first convention. There’s so much going on it can be overwhelming,” she said. “But a couple of the students decided to really go for it this year.”
Greenman encourages all her students to attend the convention for the social benefits, as well as the academic ones.
“Normally, there’s this image that Latin students don’t have a social group,” she said. “If you go to this convention, there are thousands of Latin students there. They have decided to give up a weekend to go do Latin.”
Students had various reasons for taking Latin, which is one of six languages offered at Hayfield, in addition to German, Spanish, French, Japanese and American Sign Language.
“I think Spanish is more popular to study, but I like Latin, because I like the mythology,” said Kirkland.
Greenman, who was a member of the JCL while in high school, said she believes that if more students gave the Latin experience a try, they might find they enjoy it.
“There’s this idea that Latin somehow is really, really hard,” she said. “[Students] come into their first Latin class saying, ‘I’m going to fail this subject.’ And my No. 1 priority is [to say], ‘No you’re not, and it’s not this behemoth of a language.’ That’s not what Latin is. There’s so much more to it than that.”
So what is it, exactly?
“If you think about it, everything in Western civilization is based on Rome,” said Kenedy.
“It teaches you an analytical way of thinking that really can’t be gotten from any other subject. It’s a very technical discipline in many ways,” said Greenman.