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Library program sparks fresh interest in learning Latin

Kyla Smith The Detroit News

A group of 12 people stood in a small circle as Andrew Biondo greeted each person with “Salve” before gripping and shaking their forearm.

“‘Salve’ means hello. Shaking your forearm instead of your hand is considered the Roman handshake,” said Biondo.

The 17-year-old instructor was hoping to spark interest in the Latin language during AEQUORA, a week-long program held at the Detroit Public Library Skillman Branch.

In the introductory course, participants learned the basics of the ancient language through a curriculum developed by the PAIDEIA Institute for Humanistic Study Inc. in New York, a nonprofit that helps promote the study of classical humanities. During the program, participants learn about the language, culture and history with an emphasis on grammar and adjectives.

Andrew was encouraged by his mother, Janet Biondo, to take a Latin class at his high school, Brother Rice in Bloomfield Hills.

“I knew that Latin helped students in English, science and American government. I wanted him to study a language that would help him build skills for life,” said the Troy resident. “Prior, Andrew studied Ukrainian for nine years, so I knew Latin would be valuable and beneficial to him.”

More than 42 languages around the world include some form of Latin words, and knowing Latin can help make learning another language easier, according to an ancient history classics website. Many teachers feel that students who take a Latin class will perform better on standardized tests since most English words have a Latin root word in their meaning.

Bill Leone of Grosse Pointe and his son Leo Leone joined the program because of the Latin Mass they attend on Sundays.

“It was a win-win situation when I found out about this program. It’s well-formed and very interactive for me and my son,” said Leone, who is also a language teacher for Detroit Public Schools. “This is great starting point, because you don’t find too many teachers anymore that teach Latin. I hope this program can be expanded in more school districts.”

When Andrews’s mom suggested taking the Latin class, he wasn’t opposed to it, but didn’t know he would grow to love the language.

“I didn’t think taking Latin would really help me in my other classes, but I decided to give it a try. Studying this language has been a real eye-opener for me,” he said. “So many words are derived from Latin.

“I have noticed that more students have started to transfer into my class, so it speaks to the growing interest in the language,” said Andrew, who scored a 35 on his ACT and spent two weeks in Rome through the PAIDEIA Institute’s Living Latin in Rome High School Program.

“When I decided that I wanted to teach this course, I wanted to make it fun, interactive and exciting. When students are engaged, it’s easier for them to grasp the language.”

Jerrold Foke of Detroit stumbled upon the program while checking out a library book.

“I have always been interested in Latin, but wasn’t able to find many resources,” Foke said. “Learning Latin is more about discovering the evolution of language. I think people would be surprised how much they could learn about so many other subjects if they took just one Latin class.”

In the coming months, Andrew hopes to incorporate his program into school districts where students are not exposed to classical languages.

“I hate when I hear people say that Latin is a dead language or that it’s useless. You can see its influences all over the world,” Andrew said. “I think more kids should consider Latin because it can open up a world of opportunities.”

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Twitter: @kylasmith525