Budget constraints should not ruin Latin program


Photo by WA Ghostwriter Staff

Two Latin Club volunteers sell cake pops.

Mahi Kandage, Editor-in-Chief

At the recent town meeting, school committee member Mingquan Zheng articulated that when he needed to learn hundreds of English words for a test, a nearly impossible task, his study of Latin helped him decipher their meanings through the numerous roots, prefixes, and suffixes. 

However, the latest developments to accommodate the new, tighter school budget propose to phase out the Latin program from the Westford Public Schools, a motion detrimental to the town and its students in a plethora of ways. Having Latin as one of multiple languages available to students comprises an essential component, bringing a classical education and diversity, to the prestigious Westford school system, which is ranked highly in various sources in terms of education. 

Cutting the Latin program also sets a concerning precedent. If Westford can cut a language program so integral to the curriculum, if more budget cuts are needed, other programs face the chopping block. Senior Christina Mehlhorn, an AP French student at WA, articulated this fear.

“What else can they just phase out? That’s what makes me nervous, cause a lot of kids take Latin and I think it’s really important to have a language. We don’t have that many French teachers in the high school, so what if they just start phasing that out next? Or another department, like art?” Mehlhorn said. 

Mehlhorn’s observations also raise important matters regarding priorities. As Superintendent Bill Olsen articulated at the town meeting, budgets are about priorities rather than numbers. With that sentiment in mind, do the decisions being made convey that Latin ranks lower on the list of educational priorities as compared to electives or other languages?

While I understand the kinds of constraints and pressures on the budget, I believe that allocating resources to a program that has been part of the school system for many years and offers a completely different subject than any other class at WA is important, and should be reconsidered. As for lower enrollment numbers in Latin, they do not by any means justify the total elimination of a program which hundreds of students have taken over the years.

The phasing out of the Latin program demands the implementation of a Spanish teacher to support the redistribution of students. The superintendent believes adding an extra Spanish teacher will help with the popularity of Spanish; however, adding more Spanish while completely removing the Latin options takes away from the well-rounded educational experience Westford is supposed to provide for its students. 

Through my personal study of Latin in high school, I have learned ancient Roman history and culture, which is not offered in any AP history classes at WA. I decided to take Latin in seventh grade, as many students do, because it presented a slightly different curriculum and structure than the other languages.

However, my favorite part of Latin were my teachers, who are some of the most passionate and enthusiastic teachers in the building. Their intelligence and care for their students inspire the students to become better Latin students, but also to become better people.  Sophomore Alpana Bakshi spoke about the relationship she had with her Latin teacher, and how it impacted her.

“You know the mental health forms you get asking if you have a trusted adult at this school? I’d put yes because of my Latin teacher. That’s the relationship we had,” Bakshi said.

Some critics of Latin program argue Latin is a ‘dead language’ because it is no longer spoken. However, a language cannot be ‘dead’ if its impacts on world languages and culture pervade modern society. Latin benefits those learning English by teaching important word roots, prefixes, and suffixes. It serves as the basis for understanding English literature, and it benefits those in careers focused on maths, sciences, and law.

The tight school budget presents an unfortunate decision for those who must somehow make difficult choices with the information they have. However, cutting the Latin program is an unthinkable solution to the problem. Reassessing some other, low-enrollment electives provides another option if the school budget cannot be enlarged by the town. As a last resort, the Latin program could imitate the structure of Mandarin, which is presented as an option at the high school level.

The phasing out of Latin and budget cuts in Westford begin a downward slope of the education system and promise serious, negative repercussions on the town.