Riverhead Central School District will offer its highly praised Latin program to students again after hiring new teacher Aidan Walsh.
Mr. Walsh will be teaching various levels of the program at Riverhead High School. He has a master’s degree in New Testament/early Christianity fom the University of Chicago as well as an advanced certificate in teaching Latin and a bachelor’s degree in classics and classical languages, literatures and linguistics from CUNY/Hunter College.
The program is considered a tradition for many students at the Riverhead school district and has been credited by alumni with laying educational foundations, opening doors and providing students with a stronger understanding of history and language.
The program’s future was uncertain when it was discontinued at the end of the 2020 school year, after Dr. Jeff “Doc” Greenberger and his wife, Lorene Custer, both retired. Dr. Greenberger had taught the high-school course and Ms. Custer the middle-school course. The district had hired another teacher as a replacement, but that person resigned just as the 2020-21 school year was set to begin. Instead, the district offered an online through Sterling Academy, which provides courses for students in grades 6-12 in electives such as digital arts. engineering, health science, business, foreign languages and computer science
More than 500 people, including alumni, signed a petition last year to protest the end of the program.
Now that the program is back, the community response has been overwhelmingly positive, according to Denise Stevenson, the district’s director of English as a new language and world languages for grades 5-12.
“There’s just been such excitement,” she said. “I’ve been thrilled with the opportunity that we have for our students who want to take Latin and I think the community is really excited about it.”
Mr. Walsh says that for the time being, the program will remain similar to what it was. He has set a variety of teaching goals, which include preparing third-year students for a language profiency exam at the end of the year. Another goal is to make the course accessible to more students.
“I want to make the program as accessible and as available as possible to try and broaden the population of students that Latin is appealing to,” Mr. Walsh said. “Traditionally, Latin has this kind of elitist reputation and through my time here I kind of want to push back against that and create a Latin program that is available to all students.”
His biggest challenge so far has been the need to individualize teaching for each student while maintaining the rigor of the program.
“This year we have students at a variety of levels within each level,” he said. “For example, I have students in my Latin I class who took a year of Latin in middle school and I have students that took no Latin in middle school and are interested in taking Latin this year.”
Despite the challenges, students have a lot to look forward to and Mr. Walsh said he is committed to working with each student and remaining aware of their individual needs and interests.
“In Latin you get to explore every facet of life in the ancient world, whether it’s mythology or history or love poetry or cookbooks,” he said. “There’s so much out there to explore and my goal is, especially with these smaller groups of students that we have, that I can really touch every student’s particular interest.”