Classics majors reach out to high schoolers, promote exploration
Wielding paper plates in place of shields and dawning bed sheets as togas, Latin students from across Sioux Falls gathered at Augustana to test their skills in the ancient arts last week in a classics outreach event.
Organized by the classics department in conjunction with the Classics Club and the Admissions Office, 35 students from Lincoln and O’Gorman high schools joined Augustana classics majors for a tetrathlon, a series of four events, to test skills learned throughout the year.
Events including Roman history, Greek transliteration, myth madness, and spurious etymology were coordinated by various classics students, with the overall outline of the event planned by classics professor Rocki Wentzel.
As the vice president of the Classical Association of the Midwest and South (CAMWS), Wentzel applied for a $500 grant through the organization to “promote cooperation between college and high school Latin programs.” The grant allowed the group to cater the event and buy Latin translations of books such as “Harrius Potter” and “Hobbitus Ille” as prizes.
“It’s really marvelous to see all these different ways that the Classics are getting to kids when they’re really young,” Wentzel said. “It’s motivating me to think about how to jump in and keep that going.”
Throughout South Dakota, few Latin programs exist. Wentzel credits the “Percy Jackson” series with inspiring many students to become “myth geeks” as elementary and middle school students and eventually choosing to study Latin in high school.
“They were already interested in these topics,” Wentzel said. “Outreach might even be the wrong term, because we didn’t have to do much reaching out.”
Josh Dub, a junior classics and German major, worked together with senior James Jennings and sophomore Anthony Gasiecki to create the “Spurious Etymology” event, where students were shown a word in Latin or English and then had to quickly guess the translation.
“Classics plays a large role in everything we do,” Dub said. “The ancient Greeks, the Romans, the Persians—all these ancient civilizations have shaped where we are now. To study them and their language will help us to better understand where they were coming from.”
In addition, Kyler Baier, a junior classics and English major, helped to organize the “Greek Transliteration” event, where students translated written Latin words into their Greek counterpart.
“The sooner you start studying [Latin], the more you’re going to learn, and the more opportunities you’re going to have,” Baier said. “If you can instill that passion into kids, it really broadens their horizons. If they like it, they should pursue it.”
Baier had the opportunity to begin studying Latin in high school and credits his improved writing, speaking and overall communication skills to his early exposure.
Dub agreed, attributing his thirst for knowledge in part to his classics background.
“To learn and to constantly be learning is such a large part of being a student, or being human,” Dub said. “When there are hundreds of thousands of people working towards similar things, having a diverse educational background is really important.”
The Classics Club hopes to continue an annual gathering between collegiate and local Latin programs in the future.