Teens Trading Texts for Togas

Students traded textbooks for togas during an annual event celebrating the classics.

Those who attended the West Virginia Junior Classical League Convention Thursday and Friday at the Mountainside Conference Center in Bethany tested their knowledge of the Latin language, shared their Roman toga style and even learned how to modify video games for an immersive language experience.

More than 60 students from The Linsly School, Huntington High School, Brooke High School and Lewisburg Classical Conversations participated in the event.

Nicoletta Villa-Sella, the convention’s organizer and West Virginia representative for the National Junior Classical League, said there is a misconception that Latin is very serious.

The convention provides students a fun opportunity to test their mastery of the language while interacting with students from other schools.

“Latin has been part of the American education field for a very long time. We are really hoping and fighting to keep it alive since there are fewer and fewer people who are (learning Latin). It’s really good for (students) to see that there are other people who are sharing their same interest,” said Villa-Sella, who is also a Latin teacher at Linsly.

Throughout the two days, attendees participated in a “certamen” – a Jeopardy-style quiz game – took written exams with topics including mythology, reading comprehension and Roman life, and elected officers for the upcoming year. Judged based on qualities such as “most authentic,” students sported Roman fashion during the popular toga fashion show.

Parallel to that lighthearted means of expression, Villa-Sella emphasized the importance of keeping the Latin language alive as it improves students’ ability to master communication of English, much of which is derived from Latin.

“People do not realize how much more they learn of the English language through Latin,” she said.

Friday’s keynote speaker, Andrew Reinhard, agreed that learning a classical language provides students discipline extending beyond school. In his presentation, Reinhard promoted the idea of practicing Latin through video gaming.

“I find that learning a language in an active way helps you retain the language better,” said Reinhard, an archaeological publisher who began to consider the complementary nature of video games and Latin while working as the director of e-learning for a publishing company specializing in Latin and Greek textbooks.

Using Latin in video game chat panel discussions is one possible way to integrate the classics with technology. If individuals use the free tools that are available to modify games, they can then post them on sharing communities for others to enjoy as well, according to Reinhard.

“It’s always been a punchline that Latin is a dead language. I think that’s a fallacy. With the classics community … it’s as strong as it ever was,” he said.