Low Enrollment Could End Century-Old Latin Program At Framingham High; Petition To Save Has More Than 550 Signatures

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By Caroline Lanni

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FRAMINGHAM – “I can’t imagine Framingham High without Latin,” said Rose Bailey, a Framingham High student to a School Committee subcommittee earlier today, March 8.

Bailey, a senior, said she took Latin all four years at Framingham High. She said freshman year, she took French & Latin, but knowing she had a strong interest in law and government, she went with Latin.

Bailey, who serves on the School Committee as a student representative, said despite how hard it is to learn Latin, it is important for it to be an offering at Framingham High.

Latin has been taught at Framingham High for almost a century. But Latin classes are in danger of being cut or phased out due to low enrollment of students, and also due to budget cuts. The administration is proposing not offering Latin to incoming freshmen for the 2021-22 school year.

In this current school year, there are only three seniors and six juniors taking Latin classes at Framingham High, according to administration.

Unhappy with that decision, a petition began earlier this year to save the Latin language program, and it now has more than 550 signatures.

Michael Wheeler, a Latin teacher at Framingham High School, said he has been teaching Latin for about 15 years. Wheeler said he began teaching [at FHS] in the 2016 school year when the previous Latin teacher retired.

Wheeler said he was told “indirectly,” the Latin classes are in danger of being cut due to low enrollment.

“But the number of students signed up for Latin 1 this year is the highest it’s been since I started, so they’d be killing a growing program that the kids really seem to love,” he added.

The Principal’s numbers at Monday’s subcommittee meeting support that statement.

Last year, 1.6% of the student body was enrolled in a Latin class. This year, it is 1.8% of students, but 18 freshman are in the Latin program.

According to the petition to save the Latin program it stated, “The Latin program at Framingham High School is in imminent danger of being phased out. The plan to remove Latin 1 Honors and ACP [Advance College Project] from the FHS Program will prevent entering 9th graders from choosing Latin to fulfill their foreign language requirement. Only current Latin students will be able to continue.”

Wheeler said Latin does benefit its students by, “directly or indirectly supplies English with a huge amount of vocabulary; knowing Latin roots improves SAT scores and gives students an advantage in medical, scientific, and legal fields. This isn’t my personal favorite reason to learn Latin. I’m a big idealistic believer in lifelong learning for its own sake—but the study of Latin does have a ton of often-overlooked, quantifiable benefits.”

“Latin fills a special niche that other languages at FHS don’t. There is more of an inward focus: students are not trying to make themselves understood to one another verbally, but instead are working together to come to a common understanding of what ancient voices are trying to tell them. It is for kids who love reading, and it is also for kids who want to jump right into asking why does Latin work this way when English works that way?,” said Wheeler, a Boston University graduate.

“Latin is relatively rare in urban districts, and students in Framingham deserve to have it as an option just as much as those in Needham, Weston, or Wellesley. Successful schools have a breadth of elective, languages, and arts options so students aren’t locked into a limited number of required courses which may or may not interest them,” said Wheeler.

Framingham High senior Aidan Beckman is a former Latin student, who took Wheeler’s Latin class for three years.

“Latin in general is a completely different approach to teaching a language, and with Doctor Wheeler the experience is only enhanced. His ability to take ancient Roman texts and teach them in an understandable context is phenomenal. This always leads to fun humorous comparisons that truly make you relate to and enjoy the class,” said Beckman.

“One of the ACTFL [American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages] standards is for students to develop insights in a culture that are available in no other way than studying the language – Learning Latin recontextualizes all these influences by letting the Romans speak for themselves. They are not just like us, but even at their strangest, they are achingly familiar. Getting students to learn for themselves what the Romans actually said is vitally important for interrogating the Romans’ and our own value systems, particularly the tendency to glorify and co-opt the Classics on an extremely superficial level towards antisocial ends,” said Wheeler.

Rachel Morningstar, a sophomore Latin student at Framingham High School, is now taking Latin II.

“I started Latin because I wanted a language I didn’t have to speak, and I thought it would be an easy A. It turned out to be one of the best choices I have made. Latin has become a class I look forward to going to and I enjoy being there,” said Morningstar. “I think Latin is important to learn. Latin has helped me learn more about English and where words come from. Latin has taught me a lot about grammar, making English class easier.”

“Latin is a very important language to learn because of how almost everything we learn throughout our life, stemmed from Latin,” said Framingham High junior Nicholas D’Costa who has taken Latin since 2018, “Learning this language not only provides insight into how English and the other romance languages came to be, but it also allows for a greater understanding of words by helping people understand the roots of many of the words in the English language today.”

D’Costa said he is planning on taking Latin for his senior year [next year] and to “dive” into the language and learn more about Latin.

“If the Latin classes are cut in the future they will not be replaced by another language,” said Wheeler.

“I don’t think it should be a zero-sum game anyway. The World Languages department currently teaches Spanish, French, Latin, Mandarin, Italian, and ASL, and nothing new will be added next year,” said Wheeler.

“In fact, Italian is already being phased out, but that decision was an internal department matter [as far as I understand,] unlike Latin,” said Wheeler. “Given Framingham’s demographics and history, we should definitely be adding Portuguese, and how great would it be to offer Nipmuc?”

Framingham High Principal Carolyn Banach said some programs “grow” and some “decline.”

Banach said “Latin currently serves 42 students out of a total of 2,351 schoolwide. Student enrollment decreases as the students move through the Latin program. Latin III has seven students and Latin IV has three students – A disproportionate amount of financial resources are allocated to this very expensive program. These financial resources are desperately needed in other areas, not the least of which are social-emotional supports which serve all 2,351 students.”

The Principal said “it is incumbent upon the administration to be fiscally responsible to the taxpayers of Framingham. Allocating our teaching and financial resources to maximize instruction and provide resources to meet the vast learning needs of our diverse school population is a responsibility that we take very seriously, in service to our students and families. Students currently enrolled in Latin will be able to continue studying the language.”

This year, there are 15 sophomores taking ACP [Advance College Project] and honors level Latin, and 18 freshman taking ACP and honors level Latin classes.

Principal Banach said Framingham High School does not offer Advanced Placement Latin, and she added the middle schools do not offer Latin either.

But despite Latin not offered at the middle level, when students get to the high school they do choose it, instead of continuing on with either Spanish or French.

“I decided on taking Latin because of the long-term benefit it would bring me down the road, and throughout my time in high school. While I did take Spanish in middle school, Latin offered something the other languages could not which was the ability to help decipher words on the complicated standardized tests and AP exams, by providing us with knowledge on root words, and word meaning,” said D’Costa.

“I also plan to be a lawyer or medical technician down the road so learning Latin would help to understand some of the etymologies of the words used in those fields,” said D’Costa. “If Latin were cut from the school, this may not affect my education personally, but it will affect my sibling’s education, and the hundreds of other students who may want to take Latin in the future. Not having this class is like removing the history behind our entire language
that we currently use and provides students with no access to a language that may prove essential or helpful to some fields of work that people may want to go into in the future.”

And 1992 Framingham High graduate Kelly Hagerty agrees that Latin is useful in today’s world.

Hagerty, who has a Bachelor of Science degree at Lesley University and received her Master’s in criminal justice at Westfield State, said Latin classes are “absolutely” important.

“We all use Latin, every day. Latin is a combination of two languages – English and Latin. In addition, Spanish, Portuguese, French, & Romanian derive more than 80% of their words from Latin,” said the City of Framingham employee.

“Latin helped me significantly when I took the verbal part of the SAT’s. In addition, Latin supplies root words for contemporary sciences. For example, the Latin word for fire is ignis. From that – ignition, igneous rock, molten role made from fire…,” said Hagerty.

“I wish this were offered at the middle school level in preparation for high school and SAT’s. There should be more education around the importance of this language,” added Hagerty.

Bailey said “Latin is a very important language to learn. Even though Latin is not spoken anymore almost every language including English has Latin roots. We have learned so much about English and Spanish in Latin class because Latin is the root of many languages. Latin also provides important
vocabulary for students who wish to go into law, such as myself or medicine or other sciences.”

“Cutting Latin would negatively impact so many students. Latin has taught us so much and its skills that we know we will use later in life. It is not just about the content of the class though, the students in Latin are all close. Dr. Wheeler is such a wonderful teacher too. Latin is not an easy language, and he makes it fun. Even remotely this year we are still learning so much,” said Bailey.

“I decided to take Latin because it is a very important language to learn even if people no longer speak the language. I knew that by taking Latin, I would be able to learn things in my science and English classes better since I would be able to understand the meanings of words. Latin is an important language to learn because it is the root of many languages,” said Framingham High senior Alexis Quan. “English, Spanish and French are commonly taught and are all Romance languages, deriving some or most of their roots from the Latin language. If someone wishes to go into a medical or science field as a career, Latin can be extremely helpful, as most of the scientific language is Latin.”

“You might now understand a word in English, but with knowledge of Latin, you could try to decipher the meaning of the word by looking at the root, suffix, and prefix. Latin may be a dead language in terms that people do not speak it anymore, but it is still used to this day,” said Quan, a 4-year Latin student.

“Latin has taught me more about the English language than some of my actual English classes. For example, recently, my Latin third and fourth class just presented their literary device projects. Without this class, I most likely would have gone through the rest of my high school career not knowing what they were,” said Quan. “I can also use this knowledge for my English class to help me better analyze books and plays. In addition, Dr. Wheeler is a great teacher who cares about his students and their education. He checks in on us to make sure that we truly understand the course material. If we do not, he will take the time to explain the topic. I believe that students need a teacher who pays attention to them and cares about their learning.”

Latin being gone would be very bad for the school. Latin may not be very popular, but I think it should be. This class is one of my favorite classes. Dr. Wheeler is an amazing teacher who truly cares about his students and their success. His class is fun and has helped me in many ways,” said Morningstar.
“Latin is one of those classes I brag to my friends about to tell them how great Latin is. I think if they were to get rid of Latin it would be terrible for all of those students who would miss out on such an amazing experience,” she added.

Principal Banach told the subcommittee, that she only has so much financial resources for courses.

She said she needs to serve the needs of a growing population, including the ESL (English as a Second Language) students, special education students, and a demand for other languages courses.

Framingham High “has a 2-way immersion [TWI] program. The following courses are offered in the FHS Two-Way language program – Advanced Contemporary Spanish Literature Honors, Spanish Language and Literature 1 ACP and Honors, Spanish Language and Literature 2 ACP and Honors, Advanced Placement Spanish Language and Culture, and Advanced Placement Spanish Literature and Culture,” said the principal.

The Two-Way Immersion program is a “model that brings together students dominant in Spanish [50%] and English [50%] in a specially designed academic program. The Two-Way Program follows the same curriculum as standard classes, the difference is the language of instruction,”
according to the district’s website.

Banach said, “Students studying World Languages have the opportunity to earn the Department of Education Seal of Biliteracy.”

“The State Seal of Biliteracy is an award provided by state approved districts that recognizes high school graduates who attain high functional and academic levels of proficiency in English and a world language in recognition of having studied and attained proficiency in two or more languages by high school graduation. Our vision is to help students recognize the value of their academic success and see the tangible benefits of being bilingual,” according to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education website.

Wheeler said he hopes the petition reaches 1,000 signatures.

To Sign the petition, visit https://www.change.org/saveFHSlatin

“I want the kids [including mine, who is enrolled at BLOCKS this year] to have as many options as possible, because to me that’s the sign of a thriving school district. And obviously, I cannot pretend it would not be a blow personally – this is my job, after all,” said Wheeler.

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Caroline Lanni is a 2021 spring SOURCE intern. Lanni is a senior communications major with a minor in journalism at Framingham State University. She wants to pursue a media career in broadcast journalism. She is a member of the dance team at Framingham State.

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