For Latin students at Hillsdale Preparatory School, studying a dead language brings learning to life.
Hillsdale College student tutors presented new textbooks to their students at Hillsdale Preparatory School this week, providing new structure in a Latin program that gives students a strong foundation in language.
“The college was very accommodating when we said we’d like to formalize Latin as part of our curriculum,” said Robert Henthorne, Hillsdale Preparatory School headmaster.
“Now the curriculum is in place since they’ve provided books for the older children,” Henthorne said.
For more than a decade, Hillsdale College students have volunteered in Hillsdale Prep’s Latin program, teaching the fundamentals of Latin to students from kindergarten through eighth grade.
When Hillsdale Prep opened in 2000, its founders aimed to follow a classical model of education within the setting of a public charter school.
None of its teachers, however, were qualified to teach Latin, which is traditionally considered a core subject in the classical curriculum.
The school’s first headmaster, Hillsdale College alumnus Jim Rowan ’04, asked for help from Associate Professor of Classics Joseph Garnjobst.
Garnjobst saw an opportunity for college students to acquire teaching experience while filling a need at Hillsdale Preparatory School.
Since then, Eta Sigma Phi, Hillsdale’s classics honorary, has managed and funded the Latin program.
In the past, tutors have created their own curriculum, teaching basic vocabulary to younger students and introducing Latin grammar concepts along with their introduction in English.
According to Henthorne, the new textbooks provide support for teachers in an already excellent Latin program.
“The teachers do a great job,” Henthorne said. “The other day, I walked into a classroom and saw a third-grader reading full Latin sentences off the chalkboard.”
Without a standard curriculum, though, the program had room to grow.
“We wanted to provide more structure for students’ Latin instruction,” Henthorne said.
With this goal in mind, Garnjobst contacted Memoria Press, the publisher of the textbook “First Form Latin.” He asked how many textbooks he could purchase under Eta Sigma Phi’s budget.
“‘Oh, you’re from Hillsdale College?’ they asked. ‘Your students will go on to teach Latin, right?’”
When Garnjobst answered in the affirmative, Memoria Press ensured that every student from third through eighth grade received a textbook and a workbook. They also provided teacher’s editions of the textbooks.
“It would have taken us five or six years to purchase that many books on our current budget,” Garnjobst said.
For students at Hillsdale Preparatory School, excitement about the new textbooks spilled over outside the classroom as students looked through their textbooks during the lunch break.
At Hillsdale Preparatory School, this enthusiasm for learning Latin is grounded on an understanding of the bigger picture.
“Latin is an essential building block of language. We teach our students that Latin is the glue that holds our language together,” Henthorne said.
This understanding of language is especially useful for students who transfer to Hillsdale Academy, a private K‑12 school that offers a rigorous classical education.
Garnjobst said the new textbooks are an asset for tutors as well, allowing them to test their skills and experiment with teaching methods while working within the framework of the curriculum.
“If you can keep a third-grader interested in grammar, you can keep anyone’s interest,” Garnjobst said.
For those considering careers in teaching, this experience in a classroom can be especially helpful.
“It’s perfect to put on a resume. You can say, ‘I’ve been doing this for a year already,’” senior Daniel Negri, the student coordinator of the Latin program, said.
Negri said any student who has studied Latin can volunteer in the tutoring program. For teachers and students alike, studying Latin is an essential building block of a good education.
“I’m a firm believer that students going through the rigors of the college curriculum are in a great position to mentor and teach Latin,” Henthorne said.
Student teacher junior Shelby Ripley asked his sixth-grade class why they study Latin.
“We decided that through language, we convey ideas. We can get a better understanding of those ideas by reading the original language,” Ripley said.
“My students study Latin for the same reason that I do. We get to have a shared experience with great thinkers throughout history.”