Current and former Latin educators in Lawrence join chorus of voices against eliminating the program in public schools

photo by: Shutterstock

A statue of Roman orator Cicero in front of the Palace of Justice in Rome

A recent flood of letters to the Journal-World and Lawrence school board members, along with about a dozen public commenters at the school board’s Monday meeting, have all voiced a particular goal: Save the Lawrence school district’s Latin program.

The program’s sole teacher, Zachary Puckett, could see his position eliminated as the district begins to implement more than $6 million in budget cuts.

Puckett, who teaches Latin at both Lawrence high schools, told the Journal-World Wednesday that as far as he knows, the cost of the Latin program is just his salary and benefits, plus the cost of a couple of bus rentals each year for a field trip. Public records place his total pay at just over $60,000. Puckett said he’s earned an endorsement to teach English and will be transferred to an open English position at Lawrence High next school year.

Earlier this week, fellow Latin educators shared their thoughts with the Journal-World about why losing a dedicated Latin teacher like Puckett would be a huge blow.

photo by: Contributed by Anne Shaw

Students pose for a photo in Anne Shaw’s Latin class at Lawrence High School. Shaw believes the photo is from the 1990s.

One of them was Anne Shaw, who taught Latin courses to students in Lawrence’s public schools from 1984 to 2004. Shaw, who was mentioned in multiple letters as an outstanding educator and mentor, was also present at Monday’s school board meeting.

Shaw told the Journal-World Tuesday morning that any questions about the benefits of learning Latin in high school have already been answered by the people who spoke up Monday night and who have sent letters to board members urging them to keep the Latin program.

Shaw said a Latin program is much more than just learning a language; students also learn about the culture and history. In particular, she said Latin history relates in many ways to issues happening in the modern world.

“I mean, good grief; Latin literature is full of people like (Roman orator) Cicero complaining about the system, and what can they do about the system,” Shaw said. “And all of this is incredibly relevant today.”

And Shaw said it’s a subject students obviously have enjoyed studying in years past and still enjoy today, judging from the number of students who have chimed in with their thoughts.

photo by: Contributed by Anne Shaw

Students pose for a photo in Anne Shaw’s Latin class at Lawrence High School. Shaw believes the photo is from the 1990s.

School district spokesperson Julie Boyle told the Journal-World Tuesday that 40 students are enrolled in Latin at each of the district’s two high schools. For now, Puckett teaches all 80 of them through six classes between both high schools. Boyle provided enrollment figures for the district’s other three language offerings for comparison — 160 students in German, 279 in French and 985 in Spanish.

Those 80 Latin students benefit from a close tie with the University of Kansas, according to Tara Welch, the chair of KU’s Classics Department. Welch attended Monday’s school board meeting and spoke in support of keeping the program.

Welch elaborated further on that connection between the high schools and KU in a phone call with the Journal-World Tuesday afternoon. She said her department regularly hosts and visits students in the high school program, and she noted that the connection is a “wonderful” aspect of how universities like KU can connect with their college town.

Welch also noted that language programs, once eliminated, are more than likely gone forever.

“This is the kind of cut that if you cut it, it’s not coming back,” Welch said. “It’s not like, ‘Oh, we’ll bring it back in a year if we get more funding’ or something like that. If you cut a language, language is successive. Students are in a pipeline and they go year by year; it builds on each other, so you can’t just stop it and pick it up again and expect even those same students to be able to pick it up again right where they were. They’re going to lose so much.”

Amy Meyers, the languages department chair and Latin teacher at Bishop Seabury Academy, also spoke with the Journal-World earlier this week. Meyers echoed many of the points that speakers at Monday’s meeting made — that Latin provides a foundation for understanding English and the Romance languages, and it plays a large role in scientific and legal disciplines.

Meyers said on top of that, studying Latin could turn students into stronger writers and speakers.

“I hope there’s a lot that Latin is giving my students in terms of a background and something to work with as they go on and learn a lot of new things on an everyday level,” Meyers said. “Just trying to make sure that they have some tools for that.”

photo by: Contributed by Anne Shaw

Students pose for a photo in Anne Shaw’s Latin class at Lawrence High School. Shaw believes the photo is from the 1990s.


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