Latin at Berkeley High
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Can anybody tell me about Latin classes at Berkeley High. I have
heard it is a great spot for the more academically inclined students
to meet. Is that true? What about the teachers? Are they good? Any
other info about Latin?
The Latin program at BHS is excellent from what we've experienced. My
daughter is a sophomore and has had Ms. Herndon for both years. Out of
ALL of her classes at BHS, this is the largest (38 students), yet also
the most well organized, managed, taught, etc. Expectations are high
and the teacher prepares students brilliantly to meet them. What is
lacking in many of other classes, namely students who want to be there
and teachers who have the time or proclivity to give timely feedback,
is here in the latin program. There's another teacher but my child
hasn't had him.
The Latin program at Berkeley High, anchored by the extraordinary Ms.
Herndon, is fabulous. Both of my kids benefitted tremendously. You're
right that it tends to attract the more academic students in the first
place, the curriculum is strong enough to challenge them, and it
includes considerable history, archaeology, too to make it quite
My daughter graduated in 203, but I think there must still be the same
Latin teachers at Berkeley High. She took four years of Latin and
loved it. She went right into upper division Latin courses at UC and
in fact is minoring in classics, thanks to the love of Latin instilled
I have some questions about Ms Herndon, one of the
Latin teachers at BHS. I have read the past posts about
her on this forum, and it looks like she is an excellent
teacher and very well liked. My son has just transferred
to BHS, and is enrolled in 2nd year Latin (which they
call Latin 3; apparently each semester gets its own
number). Ms. Herndon teaches a very different
approach than the one he had last year; he'll probably
be better off in Latin 2 (2nd semester, 1st yr), as he has
covered different parts of the language, and I think less
overall. That's fine; I'm all for appropriate placement,
but what concerns me is this: His homework on the
2nd day instructed him to refer to his composition book
from last year, which he didnít have because he wasnít
there last year. It turns out that part of the material is in
the textbook, and the rest is in the notes the students
take in class, which they keep and refer to. Ms Herndon
doesnít give copies of the notes to transfer students;
she expects them to borrow from another student and
copy them. That seems like a lot to ask of a kid who
already has enough work to adapt to a completely
different approach, and unnecessary; easy enough for
her to have a master copy and give copies to incoming
kids. In class, she started right in where she left off, as
if everyone in the class had been in her class last year.
The reason these things concern me, besides the extra
work, is that it doesnít feel like my kid is being
welcomed; it almost seems like heís auditioning for a
clique. Iím hoping that thatís not the case, and that itís
just an organizational glitch. My son is very good with
languages, but heís already stressed at starting a new
school, and heís getting discouraged about this. On
the plus side, I spoke with Ms. Herndon about which
level he should be in and she was friendly, and happy
to talk to me. Also several students were eating lunch
in her room, which looked like a sign of a supportive
and available teacher.
So my question is, has anyone out there had a Latin
transfer student at BHS, and how did it go? Anyone
have input on support / caring / flexibility when thereís a
problem of any kind?
Signed, concerned mom
Dear concerned mom,
I asked my son, who is a fourth year Latin student at BHS, what
your son should do to access ''the notebook.'' Here is his
''To get the notes for the composition book, your son should either
borrow a classmate's, or go in during lunch and get them out of the
master book Ms. Herndon has in the classroom.''
My impression (and my son had Ms. Herndon for his first three
years of Latin) is that the students in this class do bond, because it
is such an interesting and rigorous class. Give your son some time
to connect with some of the other kids in his classes (not only
Latin) and to Ms. Herndon. We really like her a lot. She cares
about her students, and she expects them to step up to the plate. I
believe that this ultimately serves everyone well. Both of our Latin
teachers are a treasure, and I believe it is well worth the effort to
study Latin at BHS.
My son is not a clique-y kid, and he has done just fine in this class,
and he has made some wonderful friends in this class. He has
spent many a lunch hour in Ms. Herndon's classroom. It's just a
good space to inhabit.
Good luck, and I am sure your son will soon be more comfortable.
appreciative Latin mom
I would like to know if other parents of third-year Latin students
are as unhappy as I am with the art project that they were assigned
over winter break. I hear from my child that other students have not
yet started it (this is the last day of the break), but my child
does not do well under pressure and hence started early. So far we
have made three trips for supplies (and must make at least one more);
she has worked about fifteen hours and has finished perhaps a fifth
of the project. My husband and I sent an e-mail to the teacher to
ask for some clarification and recieved a reply which did give us the
infromation we had requested, but the teacher seemed offended by our
questioning the project.
I really don't understand what this assignment has to do with
learning Latin. I am all for their learning history and culture, but
this teaches as much Latin as making a papier-mache animal teaches
about natural history. The teachers that I have questioned about art
projects always reply that there are students who have different
learning styles. But the question still remains: no matter what your
learning style, what does this teach about LATIN? Does slaving over
clay and cardboard give you some insight into grammar or vocabulary
or literature? I do not find it encouraging that teachers bandy
about buzz words like "learning style" without backing this up with
real research into the meaning of the term.
First year Latin is also flawed, in my view, by a time-consuming
mosaic project, but at least in that case a clear guideline of time
limit (twenty hours) was provided.
I have to say that I love the extra projects in the Latin classes,
and I think my children have enjoyed them too. There's so much more to
studying a language than just the grammer and vocabulary. This seems like
such a plus - studying language and the culture by re-creating art that had
so much meaning centuries ago, and is still around for us to see! I'm sorry
that the student and parents were so unhappy with this project because to me
it seems like icing on the cake, a reward for working so hard on the
language. And, I'm sure this type of well-rounded approach contributes to
the stellar reputation that the Latin program has at BHS.
My daughter is now in her 4th year in the Berkeley High Latin program.
Last year, she too, was assigned the Roman Forum building project. She
worked with a partner; they researched the building they were assigned,
went down to the basement and found cardboard and styrofoam building
materials and completed an adequate building replica, Roman arches and
all. It was by no means perfect, nor a great work of art, but they
learned a great deal in the process about Roman architecture, the history
of the building, etc.
This summer, I had the pleasure of accompanying these same two BHS Latin
students to Rome. They arose early every morning to beat the Roman heat
and the hordes of tourists to the Forum ruins. My husband and I
dispensed with the need for a tour guide. They knew every building, its
history, when it was built, its purpose, the mythology, the politics
behind the scenes-all very much alive to them.
The Latin program at Berkeley High is rich and rigorous. The teacher is
experienced and skilled at getting her students excited about the
language and the culture. Students will be lucky to have as inspiring an
educational experience when they go on to college.
My daughter is a senior and has taken Latin since 9th grade. She did the
same art projects, and I too thought them a little odd BUT my daughter just
told me she adores Latin, adores translating the Aenid(Spell?) and has always
liked her Latin teacher. This all bodes very well for college
applications. With all the other problems at BHS, I dont think these Latin
assignments are a big deal. My daughter shared them with a friend which
helped to get them done.
My child took Latin for four years and loved it. I was totally
"clueless" about these projects and what Latin was all about. Latin is
dry, esoteric, and sure, it's a dead language, but the teachers, first
Ms. Herndon (who shows her enthusiasm in teaching Latin to the first
and second year students), and then Ms. Morrison (who was equally
enthusiastic in her own way--she reads Vergil in Latin for
enjoyment!), and the students themselves, made me understand that
Latin isn't just about learning to write and speak but about the
evolution of western civilization and the rich culture that
existed. Parents try to protect their children from feeling pressure,
but high school is a time now to learn on their own how to cope with
pressure, and "projects" are all about pressure. The question of
whether slaving over clay and cardboard gives any insight into grammar
or vocabulary begs an answer--Latin grammer and vocabulary involve a
lot of rote memorization, not insight, which makes it very boring. The
actual insight comes from re-creating the culture in which this
language existed. For students who don't like Latin and the work
involved, there is an attrition rate, but if your daughter has made it
to third-year Latin she must like it because (a) she has good friends
in the class, (b) she likes the subject matter, and/or (c) she
suddenly feels very pressured but she can't see a way to get out of
In any event, I wouldn't worry about offending the teacher with your
questions. Between Ms. Herndon and Ms. Morrison, there's probably 15
years' experience teaching Latin and they no doubt have had parents
questioning their methods before, but they've found what works and
these projects--mosaics and architecture--work. What do they have to
do with the subject matter? Well, since Latin to many is boring, it's
important to create a spark and context for students to view Latin and
the civilization it cultivated without which western culture might
possibly still exist in the dark ages. What more can be said--accept
the pressure, get the assignment done (the project doesn't have to be
perfect, just give it your best shot), and remember it's the students
who get the most out of the class (or not), not the parents. It's easy
to observe and criticize infrequently, and so much harder to teach and
reach students day in, day out every academic year. So, I offer kudos
to Ms. Herndon and Ms. Morrison for their trying so hard and for their
successes (many of the students who took Latin for four years are in
Ivy League schools, and other great colleges all over the country, way
ahead of their college peers in their knowledge of western
civilization and Latin).
Latin class is not all about learning the language and only the language.
In fact Latin is not spoken as the principle language of any country in the
world today. Why take Latin then? There must be a good reason to do so,
otherwise those of us who are taking 3rd year Latin would not have a
classroom, literally, filled with students. My reason for starting Latin
back in freshman year was because the teacher is one of the best teachers at
Berkeley High and along with one other teacher, teaches one of the most
interesting, challenging, and informative Latin programs in the country. The
project you speak of is not just a useless busy task, but part of a
class-wide collaboration to build a scale model of the Roman forum, which is
definitely included under the title of "history and culture". Further, Latin
students already do much book work, some actually do enjoy the chance to
build a structure and not spend the night hunched over a text book. Building
these buildings out of cardboard is not "slaving" work, only the builder can
make it slave work. It may be time consuming and difficult, but it does give
us perspective on the accomplishments of the Romans who built these buildings
not out of cardboard but out of stone and marble. Each building also
represents a time in history when many important things happened. An example
would be my project, the Arch of Constantine. This arch was built during the
reign of the Emperor Constantine to commemorate a military victory over a
rival attempting to take over the state. We are not required to build a
building for the sake of busy work. Making the model goes hand in hand with
researching the method of construction and history behind the building, which
we then share with the class in a presentation, hence benefiting everyone in
the class. As far as the first year Latin class and the mosaic project;
mosaics are an important part of Roman culture, because so much of what we
know and see of it today was learned from mosaics. Also, mosaics were one of
their principle art forms.
It saddens me that all students in 3rd year Latin are not gaining more
than a headache from the class, however, the teacher's job is to teach the
class, and that job is best left to her. A simple solution to any who have
trouble dealing with this would be to drop the class and end the story there.
I couldn't agree more with Jenifer re: art projects in Latin
class. My son loves learning Latin and is engaged when, and only
when, he is learning the language. While he did a bang-up job on the
paper doll and the Greek dictionary projects in first year Latin, this
year he has balked about doing anything more than language and ancient
history study. Thus, he gets high marks on the language parts of the
tests because he really studies in depth, yet he's probably going to
get a C in the class because he isn't interested in learning about
things like Greek columns, for instance (a study more apt for an art
history class than for Latin class, as far as he's concerned). While
I think the art assignments are excellent opportunities to learn about
the culture of the ancient world, and many kids benefit greatly from
this approach to learning, for some kids these are a blind alley and
take away from the essence of learning Latin language and grammar.
My daughter, a recent BHS grad, took four years of Latin. I have the
utmost respect and admiration for Ms. Herndon and her Latin program.
Not only do the students learn the material but her commitment,
energy, and thoroughness make her a role model that few at Berkeley
High can equal.
That said, I too, had problems with a Latin "art" project. For me it
was the mosaic.
Since my daughter can't draw at all there was no way she could have
redrawn the picture she was given to do the mosaic. So she took the
original and color copied it. She covered it with tracing paper so
she could see the original and then started gluing. Even with this
short cut it took hours and hours and hours. The mosaic was assigned
over spring break, which meant gluing little pieces of colored paper
to a bigger piece of paper took time away from studying for the AP
chemistry test. This was a bit problematic for me. In fact, it
seemed downright absurd.
I agree that learning about the art, history and culture is
important, but frankly this project had nothing to do with art. It
was kindergarten busywork
I'm also a bit perplexed by the response that these art projects were
"icing on the cake." That assumes you *like* to do them. Actually
there are many people who *don't*. When you can't do arts/crafts,
being forced to do them isn't fun. I'm wondering how the parent of a
student taking an art class would feel if the teacher assigned some
geometry projects because some of the students have "different
learning styles". I'll bet these wouldn't be viewed as "icing on the
cake." My point is if these projects are given because they are fun
and not for their content they should be voluntary or for extra
credit and not part of the required work. Believe me, they weren't a
"reward" for my daughter. And if the intent is to get the students
to do a longer term project, why not give them a choice between an
art project and an academic project, precisely because students have
different learning styles.
In a nutshell, Latin was great, French - poor. I speak fluent French
and have found the teaching to be ineffective at best; my daughter
(10th grade next year) disliked her teacher so much she is dropping
French. Latin, with Ms. Herndon, was her best teacher (of all teachers)
and so my daughter signed up for a second year.
Re: language programs at BHS. I think the language department is fairly
weak, though many of the individual teachers are pretty terriffic. The
classes (esp Spanish) go slowly enough to keep the diversely skilled
student group moderately together. Both my kids found it too slow.
However, Latin is really great. My child is going into second year
Latin. It's his favorite class. It's really tough and lots of fun:
lots of memorizing, homework every night (never ever volumes) and
several art projects. Quizzes, tests. Ms. Herndon, the year1-2
teacher is organized, clear & expectations are explicit. And she's
delightful. My son plans to take all 4 years. He's going into Spanish 6
and will continue that as well. I had another child who graduated a few
years ago who did 2 languages as well (4 years of Spanish and then
French beginning in 11th grade.)
The school makes it hard for kids who want to take 2 languages. You'll
have to fight for it because the requirement to take Social Living in
10th grade makes it difficult. (they don't allow you to carry that many
academic subjects) There are a few ways around this, but it's work.
It's really a problem for kids who love language.
To Galen, I had a "bird's eye view" of Latin with Ms. Herndon through my
daughter, a junior, who has taken Ms. Herndon's class since her freshman
year; this year she'll go into AP Latin (she did a mosaic which has been
on display at the North Berkeley library). My daughter loved Ms.
Herndon who was the driving force in keeping students in Latin from
freshman year on--once hooked, she kept you hooked. Let your daughter
be surprised; she'll enjoy the class and get a lot out of it. When you
have a great teacher like Ms. Herndon, as a parent, you shouldn't, nor
do you need to, interfere unless, of course, your child is having great
difficulty keeping up. However, I have no guidance to offer other than,
in general for all her classes, keeping an eye on how much homework she
has by asking her every day and the push to assure she keeps up good
study habits (not watching TV, or talking on the phone while doing
homework). As a parent, it is imperative to attend open house and meet
all your daughter's teachers, or you will have nothing to guide you in
guiding your daughter if you don't know what the teacher is like in
personality and the style and content of teaching. Latin gets more
difficult (Herndon does not teach AP Latin). There are so many
derivatives from Latin in the English language, and it will further help
in medicine and law. Latin is not a "dead" language as I once believed,
but lives on in our daily use of English. My daughter also takes French
(no complaints) and went to Brazil this year. She said that knowing some
Latin helps in understanding English and the romance languages -
Portuguese, French, Italian, Spanish. As AP courses, languages get much
tougher, but the class size is smaller and it appears the teachers are
pretty good. --JA
Latin-Latin is the best course at BHS. It is rigorous,
multi-disciplinary, requires daily accountability from students, and is
taught by an involved and interesting teacher. My son felt it was the
only class where he learned anything in 9th grade. They study art,
history, culture and politics as well as grammar. Distant second best
is German - they will learn something but it's no challenge. Far, far
down the list are French and Spanish-ask permission to complete two
semesters per semester if you plan to take these.
My daughter, Rachel, took two years of Swahili at Berkeley High with a
wonderful teacher, Chris Nyanda, from Kenya. Mrs. Nyanda is a an
excellent teacher and a "den" mother to her students.
Since she learned the language, Rachel has run into many East Africans
or folks who have visited there and she has enjoyed speaking Swahili
with them. She looks forward to visiting East Africa one day.
Latin is a lot of memory work. I don't know how my daughter ever did it.
Very rigorous. She loves it. I have heard that German is a good choice
because you get the same very dedicated teacher for every class;
something familiar every year. I have heard that Latin is hardest,
German in the middle, and French and Spanish easiest. Be careful about
studying two languages. All foreign language AP classes are offered the
REgarding the message on Latin, the most charming part of Latin 1-4, the
first 4 semesters is the teacher. She is witty, charming and engaging.
The kids love her and she is definitely the highlight at back to school
nights. My son loves all the background, the history, and the grammar is
cool. ( I get to help drill him for the many quizzes ). It is way more
work than any other language due to the background, grammar,
translations , etc., but there is a cool National Latin Club test in
the spring that kids can compete in. My son hasn't taken any of the
other languages at BHS, but now feels that Spanish would be a breeze.
He has compared notes with his friends taking Latin at College Prep and
Campolindo (in Moraga) and feels that he is getting the better Latin
education. He plans on continuing with Latin for the next 2 years. What
I like is that he is really into Roman history, which I teach.
re: taking two languages and the value of Latin: although social
living is important, I signed a letter saying I would teach it at home
and my daughter was excused from it (so she could take both Spanish and
Latin in 10th grade). Latin continues to be wonderful in 11th grade.
We went to Rome and Pompeii and our daughter was an able tour guide.
Miss Morrison is as great as Ms. Herrndon.
this page was last updated: Nov 16, 2013
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