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Fifth-grade students with their new Latin books at Hillsdale Preparatory Academy. Daniel Negri | Courtesy
Fifth-grade stu­dents with their new Latin books at Hillsdale Preparatory Academy. Daniel Negri | Courtesy

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.”