GESD students excelling at Latin

This photo shows the 10th grade winners. (Photos submitted)

GLOVERSVILLE — Latin is alive and doing very well in the city according to Gloversville Enlarged School District Latin teacher Sara Watkins, whose eighth-through 10th-grade students took the National Latin Exam.

Watkins said Wednesday that 67 students in the high school and middle school took the exam with 96 percent receiving a passing grade and about 50 percent of the group receiving certificates of merit from the exam committee for test scores above the national average.

Two freshman, Danitza Peralta and Zachary Nikolav, had perfect scores on the exam placing them in the top .01 percent of students who took the test nationwide.

Sophomore Benjamin Smouse received a gold medal of achievement for receiving a nearly perfect score, getting 38 correct answers out of 40 total questions. Eighth-graders Olivia Hanifan and Breanna White also had nearly perfect scores and received certificates of merit.

Students had 45 minutes to complete the exam that was given on March 15. Scores were released about a month later. About 75 percent of the exams were comprised of questions testing the students’ ability to read and translate Latin with the remaining questions on cultural and historical material.

The NLE committee has not yet released a report on the 2018 exam results, however in 2017, 136,891 students took the test across the country with 1,112 receiving perfect scores and 12,978 receiving gold medals of achievement.

“It was not a particularly easy test,” Watkins said. “I knew that they would do well, but I didn’t think that they would get perfect scores. That is very difficult.”

Latin has been available to students from eighth-through 12th-grade as a language course for several decades, with Watkins taking over as teacher two years ago following the retirement of district Latin teacher Charles Giglio.

The NLE sponsored by the American Classical League is optional, but Watkins said she wanted to offer the exam to her students to validate their hard work.

“I wanted them to take the exam so that they had some external validation for their abilities, besides me just saying ‘great job’ or ‘you’re doing well.’ I wanted them to have some way of sort of comparing themselves to other Latin students in the country,” Watkins said. “I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, since this was the first time I’ve administered it. It definitely exceeded my expectations.”

According to Watkins, most schools offer Latin as an honors course, whereas in GESD it is offered as one of only two language options, with Spanish being the other choice. Latin differs from other language courses, as the focus is on learning grammar and vocabulary with a view towards reading literature in the original Latin.

Watkins said there is not much emphasis on students learning to speak Latin.

“It’s kind of like a language and literature class,” Watkins said. “One of the greatest benefits, I think, from learning it and going through a Latin program is the vocabulary building that it helps with in learning English, because upwards of 80 percent of words in English come from Latin.”

Watkins said there is a continued interest in the course among students and their parents with roughly 30 students signing up each year. Watkins, who began studying Latin in ninth-grade, said she’s jealous of the eighth grade students who had an extra year to learn the language.

“I’m lucky that I get so many kids that are willing to work hard,” Watkins said.

Watkins said she decided to have only the eighth-through 10th-grade students take the exam as it more closely aligned with the curriculum for those years, although the exam is available for junior and senior level Latin courses.

She gave the test as a challenge for the students, but said she didn’t want to put any pressure on them, informing them ahead of time that their scores would not factor into their class grades.

“I told them this is something that I would like for us to do in our Latin program, because I think that you all can do well on it and I want you to build confidence in yourselves and in your ability to use Latin,” Watkins said.

Watkins seems thoroughly impressed with her students, noting that her younger classes took it upon themselves to study for the exams without her pushing them to do so while her 10th-grade classes are having college level discussions.

“My background is in college teaching, before I came here to Gloversville, and as a group that grade level has just been phenomenal to me. We have class discussions in that class at an intellectual level that I could have with college students. They’re just as a group very talented, very curious, always asking great questions and willing to put in the work to learn a language,” Watkins said.

“I see the eighth and ninth-grade level developing in the same way,” she added.

She expressed particular amazement for the achievements of Smouse, Peralta and Nikolav.

“All three of them have been just a pleasure to have in class, because they’re hard working, they’re very bright and they always ask the best questions. They’re the type of students that it makes me really happy to see them rewarded for their hard work and for their intellectual achievements, because what else would this be about if it weren’t seeing them see the fruits of their educational endeavors paid off,” Watkins said.

After the scores came back, Watkins held awards presentations in her classes for the students who received certificates or medals and at the end of the year she plans to have the names of Smouse, Peralta and Nikolav engraved on a plaque that will hang in her classroom to commemorate their achievement.

Additionally, the eighth-grade students will be recognized at their promotion ceremony and the high school students will be recognized at the next Academic Excellence Awards Assembly.

“I just wanted them to have something to be proud of. I feel like they should be very proud of what they’ve done and I want them to receive some recognition for that. A lot of this was the students taking up this challenge on their own terms and preparing for the exams on their own terms,” Watkins said.

By Kerry Minor

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