Guest Column: Think long term to sustain Riverhead’s Latin program

Jeff “Doc” Greenberger, a longtime Latin teacher at Riverhead High School. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder file)
Jeff “Doc” Greenberger, a longtime Latin teacher at Riverhead High School. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder file)

I was in attendance at the June 24 school board meeting and listened to the thoughtful discussion regarding the possibility of hiring an additional Latin teacher to cover the overflow of students now seeking to become part of Riverhead’s excellent Latin program.

I have four children who have attended or currently attend Riverhead Schools.  All three of my sons have had the honor of being students of both Lorene Custer and Jeff ‘Doc’ Greenberger. My daughter will be entering 7th grade in September and has requested Latin as her foreign language. She has been waiting a long time to take this class with Ms. Custer!

I first met Dr. Greenberger and Ms. Custer in 2001 when they attended a Town Board meeting with the students involved in their Latin team competitions. Their presentation and their enthusiasm for their students and for Latin was remarkable. The students were clearly top notch and thriving. It was clear that these were extraordinary teachers, the kind that bring out the best in their students and whom are dedicated to their profession. Although my eldest child was only a third grader at the time, I decided at that moment that he would study Latin as soon as the opportunity presented itself.

My eldest did study Latin at Riverhead Middle School with Ms. Custer and continued on through high school where he studied with Dr. Greenberger for all four years. He took Latin IV as well as Ancient Greek. He even continued his Latin studies in college. My two younger sons also benefitted tremendously from studying Latin with Dr. Greenberger and Ms. Custer. All three of my sons will tell you that Latin was hard work, but because of Ms. Custer and Dr. Greenberger and the program they have created, it was well worth the effort.

The Latin program at RHS is unique. It is a program, not a class. Once you are part of the Latin family in the school district, you have the opportunity to have a unique educational experience with two fantastic educators.  You can participate in the Roman Banquet, in Latin competitions and be part of the club. Although I have attended six Roman Banquets, I am always amazed by the dedication and energy that Dr. Greenberger and Ms. Custer infuse into each event. Their students are equally engaged, charming, talented and enthusiastic. It is truly an amazing feat — a tribute to our school and what can happen when professional teachers who are dedicated to what they do are given the freedom to practice their profession.

Dr. Greenberger and Ms. Custer have dedicated their professional and personal lives to this program and it is an amazing asset to the district. That is why the choice you currently have before you is critical.

As Mr. Meyer mentioned at the BOE meeting, having too many children wanting to become part of a program is a good thing. But, we have to maintain the integrity and excellence of the program when seeking to expand it.  Adding a part time teacher may be the best financial decision, but the long term consequences could be devastating to the program.

I hope the Board would consider a longer term solution to maintain and grow this excellent program. If we need to add a teacher for the long term, that makes sense. However, hiring a part time teacher, who will likely leave once a full time position becomes available, will likely create havoc and could deprive some children of a great opportunity. Moreover, it will leave us in the same position we are in currently; looking for someone to fill the need. Would the board consider hiring a full time teacher who is a good fit for the program and restore Ancient Greek or add other ancient culture classes to our curriculum?  In the meantime, we may need to bite the bullet and have Dr. Greenberger and Ms. Custer cover the new classes. That way, the program grows in strength and popularity and we are not patching it haphazardly. Let’s think about helping Dr. Greenberger and Ms. Custer make our program even better rather than simply finding a short-term financial solution.

In our district we spend a tremendous amount of money on special programs, teachers and other professionals so that all children have the opportunity to learn and grow at their level. I thank the board for making that happen. However, I think it would be penny wise and pound foolish to allow the integrity of one of the school’s finest programs to be compromised by a quick fix to save money. I am sure that a solution to the problem can be found that allows the program to grow without compromising the quality of it. It may cost a bit more at the outset, but our students are certainly worth every penny.

That is something that I am sure we agree on.

Dawn C. Thomas, Jamesport