MOUNT VERNON — Thanks to modern technology, the ancient language of classical Latin is alive and well in the 21st century and students in Van Buren are learning about Romulus and Remus right along with their Mount Vernon High School counterparts.
With Moodle as the platform and with Synchronous Interactive Video Distance Learning, MVHS Latin instructor Mary Jo Behrensmeyer’s eighth-period class includes several students from Van Buren Middle School. [Van Buren is near Findlay.]
The Van Buren Latin students are seventh-graders who, Behrensmeyer said, like being in a class with senior high students, especially one with football players in it. “But,” added Behrensmeyer, “it’s not Van Buren. It’s not Mount Vernon, it’s Latin 1. We’re all in the same class and we’re all classmates.”
Van Buren’s principal Jay Clark said his students so far have done well in the elective class, which was offered on a first come-first served basis.
“I wanted students of all ability levels to be part of this pilot program,” Clark said. “We currently do not offer any languages to our middle school students. As part of our district’s strategic planning, we have visited a number of schools offering languages in kindergarten through grade eight, and something that is clear is that language education benefits students of all ability levels. For struggling learners, it helps them better understand the English language and for stronger students, it provides a great challenge.”
Asked why he chose Latin as a distance learning subject, Clark said, “With Latin as the root of [English] language, this will help students with vocabulary in any discipline.”
“Latin is the original interdisciplinary subject,” said Behrensmeyer. “You could study geometry through the architecture in the buildings. You can study the economics in the trade routes. You can study art in the frescos and mosaics, you could study medicine, and there’s science. Roman law — the 12 Tables — is the foundation for our law.”
A veteran teacher in her 35th year as an educator, Behrensmeyer said she had to work through nervousness and apprehension to learn how to use a tremendous amount of technology for the video distance learning class.
“I had to learn a new technical instructional delivery system,” she said. “Apart from e-mail, for years I said, ‘Julius Caesar didn’t need [technology]; neither do I.’ I can’t say that anymore.”
The school has provided technical support personnel to Behrensmeyer, and two students, Austin Cline and Logan Rothgeb, provide technical assistance as needed during the class sessions.
While Behrensmeyer conducts the class in Mount Vernon an educational aide, Tammy Routson, monitors and assists in the Van Buren class.
“What has made this successful,” said Clark, “is that she [Routson] is more than a ‘warm body.’ She works hard to review with the students and makes sure they are prepared for the classes. She laughs that the Latin she learned in high school is starting to come back to her.”
The synchronous interactive video distance learning system was purchased through grant money which also paid for professional development for teachers. “The hope is,” said Mount Vernon superintendent Steve Short, “that eventually we can use this equipment and be able to not only tape courses or give courses to other people but also to take courses as needed.”
Kathy Kasler, MVHS principal, agreed. “We’re excited about this opportunity,” she said. “It provides us a means to implement 21st century learning skills for our students as well as stretch our own teachers for incorporating those technologies. It helps us maximize our student/teacher ratios.
“The video distance learning piece is important to us as a smaller district,” said Clark. “VDL allows us to potentially provide more options to our students with interaction, which I feel is important.”
Besides being able to take classes they may not otherwise encounter, students benefit from VDL in other ways.
Clark said, “We are moving more and more toward globalization and our students need to experience video conferencing, even if it is only across the state.”
“What are our students going to when they get out of school?” asked Gary Chapman, director of teaching and learning for the Mount Vernon school district. “They are going to an online environment. They’re going to college and they have got to be computer literate. New state and federal standards are coming out for college and career readiness; this is part of our charge.”
Another way the distance learning system is used at MVHS is to provide physiology students the opportunity to observe a heart transplant or knee operation in real time. Moodle is also extensively used by many Mount Vernon teachers to keep their students apprised of current assignments, quizzes and class content.