For the past three years, while the school celebrated the Barn’s opening and navigated the pandemic’s disruption, there has been another slightly quieter type of building happening on our campus. Like the Barn itself, its construction process has been one with data-backed decision-making, dogged determination, and masterful design from experts in the field.
Belmont Day’s first collection of Latin scholars will graduate this spring. These students have worked and learned under the careful eye of Latin teacher and program architect Nicole Buck. Four years ago, driven by the school’s intentional middle school enrollment growth, the language faculty at the timeNathalie Pellenq, William Yepes, and Jen Friborgjoined Deborah Brissenden in a thoughtful and extensive programmatic review to expand our language offerings. And three years ago, Latin was launched at BDS.
The Latin program successfully embodies the values of our language department’s statement of purpose: “Language is a tool for learning how to connect with, generate empathy for, and understand others. … Students appreciate the power of words and how language has influenced and continues to mold the views of all societies.” This year’s eighth grade students will be our first graduates to have experienced the program in its entirety.
Latin echoes the emphasis in our Spanish and French programs on communication, student empowerment, and connection to the world beyond BDS. In addition to learning vocabulary and verb conjugation, Latin students have designed Roman baths and run an election campaign, complete with stump speeches. They have considered the impact that the Romans’ long-ago decisions regarding slavery, the treatment of women, family roles, and the concept of “otherness” have had on today’s global Western cultures. And like our French and Spanish students, Latin scholars are discovering connections between their language of choice and English. “I love the way your brain associates Latin with different words that are English,” one student reported.
While we’ve missed Ms. Buck’s toga-clad warnings to “Beware the Ides of March” both this year and last due to the pandemic, we witness each day how her engagement with students brings incredible life to this so-called dead language. And beware to anyone who may call it a dead language to Ms. Buck herself.