Alas … from the Denver Post:
In Laurie Lawless’ Latin class at Dakota Ridge High School, 18 eager students study the classics: works by Vergil, Ovid, Horace — and, of course, the timeless … Seuss?
“Imber tortum diem fluit,” says 16-year-old Ryan Cutter, reading with earnest precision. “Urceatim semper pluit.”
Lawless helps him through a literal translation of the opening lines of “Cattus Petasatus” and then opens the English-language version of “The Cat in the Hat” and reads it aloud again: “The sun did not shine, it was too wet to play.”
This sort of playfulness with a purpose has cultivated a devoted following of students in the 11 years since Lawless launched the Latin program. And it’s one of many reasons they lament its official demise with next year’s budget cuts.
World languages have been hit hard, as have art, business and marketing and physical education, says Dakota Ridge principal Jim Jelinek. The Jefferson County school district has held off on requiring two years of a foreign language for graduation as it deals with successive years of $30 million-plus cuts, he said.
“It’s a quality education we want to provide for kids,” Jelinek says, “and we’re having to make real tough choices of what to trim.”
Lawless understands. Her student numbers have declined to the point where Latin I and II dissolved, with the most advanced students forging ahead into the combined Latin III and IV class she teaches this year.
“The time was right, if they had to cut it,” she says. “But it breaks my heart.”
That isn’t lost on her remaining students.
“Latin is her passion,” says Niki Martschinske, 17, who has taken the language four years under Lawless. “Latin is like our little family. It’s something to look forward to each day.”
No one looks forward to it more than Lawless, for whom this 90-minute block of classroom time has been nothing less than the realization of a dream.
At age 7, she knew she wanted to become an archaeologist and dig through the ruins of Pompeii. The archaeology part of that dream eventually disappeared.
“But the ancient world had already captured me,” she says. “I loved the literature, the language, the linguistic aspect of the history of the English language.”
She ended up with a bachelor’s degree in the classics and accrued 30 hours of graduate-level credit. All she needed for her master’s was to pass some comprehensive exams.
The tests didn’t go all that well. She aced Latin but couldn’t pass Greek art and history.
The demands of family life kept her from retaking the tests — something she regretted years later, when it was too late. She volunteered in her daughters’ Jeffco schools and worked as a paraprofessional before going back to college to earn a math degree.
In 1999, Lawless signed on to teach math at Dakota Ridge. But the principal at the time also zeroed in on another line of her resume.
“He liked the fact I could also start up a Latin program,” Lawless recalls.
She started teaching Latin the following year, welcoming 50 students. Over the years, some of her recruits were eighth- graders who had come to the high school for the advanced geometry class she taught and decided to try Latin as well.
Senior Lacey Hull spent three years in Lawless’ Latin class before moving to Chatfield High this year. Still, she returns to Dakota Ridge in time to catch the last hour of each class.
“It’s an opportunity I have that a lot of other people aren’t allowed,” Lull says. “Why would I give that up?”
Students talk about the value they’ve found in Latin when it comes to expanding their English vocabulary — a factor some see particularly helpful as they plan to pursue a career in the medical field.
“It applies to so much,” says Martschinske. “It’s a lot more helpful than you’d think, for a dead language.”
“I think I’d be lost in my English class without this class,” adds Stephanie Mark ham, a 17-year-old senior who’s taking an Advanced Placement literature course.
Lawless has promised her remaining students that next year she will shepherd them through Latin IV. Like other teachers whose passion for a subject moves them to aid students on their own time, she probably would supervise independent study projects.
“No way I could leave these kids without a fourth year of Latin if I could teach it,” says Lawless, who will take on additional math duties next year. “Call it selfish on my part, me hanging on with my fingernails. I want to give this all I’ve got.”