Why Latin struggles to survive in Pelham


Most people just think of Latin as a “dead” language. Latin isn’t dead, but it is dying in Pelham, and the Pelham Union Free School district has done little to help.

The lack of interest in taking Latin over the years has decreased classroom sizes, leading to classes that slowly dwindle in numbers until very few are left. When I decided to take Latin in 6th grade, my class had around 15 students. It has since shrunk to 7. With the shrinking of some classes and the elimination of others, the Latin teaching position has been relegated by the district to a part-time teaching position. 

A part-time teaching position eliminates many benefits that a full-time position offers – insurance, paid time off, retirement, and other benefits. It was no surprise to me that that due to these changes, last year’s Latin teacher resigned over the summer of 2019 – throwing schedule creation for the seven of us into ruin. The guidance counselors now had to fit Latin into my schedule, when nearly everyone else in my grade had a complete schedule. This led to all sorts of problems. I had 3 classes scheduled for the same period. One student had gym and lunch scheduled during Latin.  

While this was eventually sorted out, I had to drop Chamber Chorus, a class that accepts students based on merit, and the other people in my class had to make sacrifices. The district found another Latin teacher, who negotiated with them to also teach a period of Italian in exchange for a full-time position. However, almost two weeks ago, he resigned, because his position became part-time once more. 

This pattern is becoming more and more clear to me, and we will eventually have a teacher who accepts the part-time position. This might lead to a lack of consistency in teaching methods, and possibly a teacher who doesn’t care about their students because their job could be temporary. The reason I’m writing this article is to bring to light the struggles of a student taking a great and noble language that is slowly dying alone.

Our teachers may be continuously getting replaced, but the shame is that they were committed, and they really cared about us, so much so that they assured us they would be staying and breaking the pattern of getting replaced. But they were all wrong. In the past 5 years, I have had four different teachers, and all of them are gone (except for one, who was a stand-in for another teacher). This is due to the lack of assistance from the district.

The main reason the position has become part-time is the lack of interest in recent years. As I did further investigating, I discovered there are no Middle School Latin classes, which could only mean that students are electing to take an obviously practical course such as Spanish, French, or Italian. But Latin is still practical. 

Latin is the mother language of the romance languages, and is extremely influential in the creation of modern English. This means that when you have trouble with word derivations, Latin comes in handy. One such example of this would be on the SATs, where there are many questions in the English section asking what a word means. Latin could help in that instance. In addition, other romance languages (Spanish, Italian, French, Portuguese) can be understood much better, because they are all derived in part from Latin. 

Even if we can’t make a difference with how the district is treating Latin, we can spread the word of how many benefits Latin has, and why students should take it. Do your part. Tell friends and family about Latin, and with enough awareness being raised, the program can come back to being a strong language with more than one class per grade.