A BFA Tradition Graduates: Latin Walks the Stage After 93 Years


Photo credit: Dino Patsouris

Penelope Noza, Writer

  1. Mercury staff member, Owen Scott, contributed to this piece by conducting interviews.

Latin has a long-standing history at Bellows Free Academy.  As stated in the BFA 1929-1930 Courses of Study, the school has offered Latin since 1930. According to The Mercury April 10, 1942 edition, a little over a decade after creating the course, students formed a Latin Club, consisting of second, third and fourth year Latin students.  As stated in this article, “Plans for the organization of the club were largely the work for Miss Caitlin and the third and fourth year Latin students.  The sophomores received the idea with enthusiasm, since there was to be no initiation for underclassmen.”

March 7 is St. Albans’ Town Meeting Day. Among other items on their ballots, voters will decide whether or not they approve of Maple Run Unified School District’s proposed budget. According to BFA Principal, Brett Blanchard, should the budget be approved, Latin will no longer be taught at BFA.

Striking the Last Latin Class in Franklin County

BFA is the last high school in Franklin County to strike down its Latin program: Enosburg Falls High School, Missisquoi Valley Union and Bellows Free Academy Fairfax do not offer the language. The Mercury reached out to Richford Jr./Sr. High School and confirmed that they do not offer Latin as well.

In an interview with The Mercury, Blanchard stated that the main reason behind cutting Latin at BFA is to meet long-term objectives and manage to do so with “limited resources.” When planning the school budget, Blanchard said he meets with his administrative team to determine what goal they are trying to meet. They have decided that they need to focus on social-emotional support for students.

“The post-pandemic world has shown that there’s a far greater need to improve student health and mental well-being…There’s also the least amount of resources in my entire career in Vermont for outside resources for any mental health assistance…I say the objective over the long run – three to five years – needs to be [that] the school’s going to have to take up a more of a therapeutic approach that we’ve always denied in public schools,” Blanchard said. 

When asked why Latin specifically was cut, Blanchard said Latin enrollment has been declining over the years at “…such a rate as it’s not sustainable across the building.” He added that when looking at course enrollment numbers for the next school year, approximately 17 students signed up across the four different levels of Latin offered. 

 “There’s no way I can have faculty have 17 students- they need to have 17 in one class; they need to have more in many cases,” Blanchard said. “It’s really a cost issue of where do we put our resources and does something look sustainable, so I think you can keep a high cost, low number going if you think the number [of course enrollments] is going to go [up].”

The Latin program being cut was not the only attempt made by BFA administration to save money. Blanchard said that he “did cut supplies coming into next year to try and also save positions.”

According to Blanchard, the decision to cut Latin was finalized by the school board during their most recent meeting. Be that as it may, voters will determine the fate of the class. Blanchard said that adjustments can be made and proposed to the school board.

“Adjustments can always be done after [the voting] in terms of allocating funds; They can be shifted over. The total amount of money, you can’t really [change], unless there’s an emergency…besides that, you have to stay within the parameters of the budget. Now you can shift it over… but [any changes made] need a formal request.”

Decline in Latin Enrollment

 Lydia Batten has taught Latin at Bellows Free Academy for the last ten years. For over 80 years, levels one through four of Latin have been offered at the school. There are currently 20 students in Latin: 13 of them being in Latin One. According to Batten, due to low numbers, Latin Two and Three have been merged into a single class. 

In the past few years, Latin course enrollment “has shown a decline, despite…efforts to promote the classes,” Batten said.  She has previously made attempts to create a feeder program, but to no avail. “I have tried to get permission to go down to the sending schools and do a ‘pitch’ for all world languages, not just Latin-but that was a primary impetus-and that was denied. We were told the guidance counselors explained everything to the students and it was not necessary.” 

Despite this, some feel that having been given more information about world languages prior to high school, especially Latin, would have been beneficial. “If I had known what I now know going into high school, I would have taken Latin,” Sophia Williams (‘24) said. She added how it was “cooler” than French and would have helped her with vocabulary.

When asked what she believes the reasons are behind dwindling enrollment numbers, Batten said that many believe the language is “dead,” when, in fact, it is far from it. 

“Latin is the base (up to 60%) for much of the English we currently speak…Latin is also a direct influence on French, Spanish, Italian, and Romanian…So long as you are using English, you are keeping those languages very much alive,” Batin said. “I think that anyone who wants to go to college now should be taking Latin, too, because it is a guarantee to understanding the English Language so much better. Ask anyone who has studied it – even for a little bit.”

Aima Rashid (‘21), who took Latin under Batten, concurs. In her article, “A Case for Latin,” she shared that her prior knowledge of Latin going into AP Biology proved to be helpful, as she was able to “break down the complex vocabulary to the simple roots.” 

Decision Impacts 

Many colleges require students to have taken a language for two years, while more competitive schools recommend taking a language class all four years of high school. With the discontinuation of Latin, the language requirement has BFA Latin students considering how to adjust their high school schedules. 

Marie DeSorgher (‘26), a Latin One student, said, “I was only planning on taking three years [of Latin] because I didn’t really want to take a language my senior year, but now that I’m going to have to transition into a different language. I’ll have to take one my senior year anyways, which entirely throws off my plan I had for high school.”

When The Mercury asked why he would like to continue Latin, Jacoby Soter (‘26), another Latin One student, said, “…because I am college bound and I think that having four years of [the same] language would be better than having it cut short.” Soter added, “Even if they put it down on a transcript that you stopped because it was cut…colleges won’t care; they’re looking for specific requirements, and if you don’t meet them, you’re not getting into a competitive college. And I feel like if you’re not getting into college because of that, it’s an administrative problem and not an educational one.” 

BFA guidance counselor, Stephanie Hodgeman, said, “seeing a language [on a student’s transcript] then seeing a [switch to a] different language” will not have a negative impact because “colleges are all about being holistic and kids exploring and diversity.” 

For students who wish to pursue further immersion in the language, Batten said that they are being directed to Virtual High School, which offers Latin up to level three. She added that “this format is not successful for everyone” based on her experience with online learning due to the pandemic.

Students and teachers alike learned during the pandemic that in-person lessons and virtual teaching lessons are two very different experiences. Even three years after the shutdown, online learning still has its challenges. 

She went on to add, “In this online world, students do not have easy/quick access to the online teachers, and the pace is very accelerated by comparison to how a teacher in the classroom can slow down or speed up curriculum based on students’ needs and offer additional support when needed in a timely way. Some students end up not completing the [online] courses due to frustrations for these reasons.”

UVM and Latin

Batten recently brought students to Latin Day on February 6. This year marked its 45th anniversary. According to Batten, BFA has attended Latin Day since it was first created in 1978. Latin Day is a BFA tradition held at the University of Vermont and was created by the UVM Classics Department

Batten’s students enjoyed the event. 

“Latin day was fun. We were able to meet people from other schools that are learning the same things as us, all at different levels. We were also able to see old Latin text and how it was used to shape our society,” Eleanor Demore (‘26), a Latin One student, said.

Batten explained that Latin Day is “…an eye-opener for students who think they are a small minority in their own schools to go there and see so many others who also study Latin. They can wear togas, take part in mock gladiator fights and military ‘testudo’ formations, act in silly skits with ancient themes, compete in academic contests, put artwork on display, recite passages in Latin or learn about ancient games.” Students are also able to tour the UVM campus and go to the library to see antique copies of Latin texts in their special collections.

Earlier this month, UVM announced that the UVM Board of Trustees has approved the creation of a new School of World Languages and Cultures within the College of Arts and Sciences. According to UVM Today, the school “…brings together four departments – Asian Languages and Literatures, Classics, German and Russian, and Romance Languages and Cultures – under the same roof, providing increased opportunities for students and faculty to learn and understand not just the languages themselves but also the cultural context – through literature, film, politics, and social history – in which they exist.” 

The Impact BFA Latin Has Left On Students 

The Mercury reached out to BFA Alumni that took Latin while in high school and asked them to reflect on how Latin impacted them. This is what they shared:

“It would be such a tragic loss for BFA to cut Latin. It provided me with such a solid foundation to learn the medical terminology for [Physician’s Assistance] school, and I felt that it set me apart from my peers both in college and in my medical program. Learning the Classics is so incredibly valuable, and I have so many fond memories from those courses. Learning about ancient history and how Latin birthed many of the world languages is valuable no matter what field you go into. Missing out on that opportunity would be a detriment to BFA’s students,” Thomas Allerton (‘15).

“I’ll never forget the sense of community and camaraderie that Latin Day provided all those years. I really had a blast in our little Latin class,Jeff Hazard (‘15).

“Latin was a huge part of my experience at BFA, and I loved how the smaller classes allowed for more personal growth and connection between students and teachers that other languages just didn’t have…I also loved learning about the Latin/Greek culture and language as that isn’t something we got to do in any other area,” Cassie Stimson (‘15). 

“Taking Latin at BFA not only gave me a fun fact about myself, but I also find connections to Latin in everyday life. Whether I am reading a historical text and Latin references are made, or in my science classes where terms like “antecedent” are used, I remember my days in Mrs. Batten’s class learning about proper sentence structure and Latin vocabulary. I still catch myself reading strange words with a Latin pronunciation just because it’s fun and I know how to do it. I often wish I had more time to learn Latin in high school, and even now in college, because it’s such a valuable language to understand.” -Quincy Fournier (´21)

In an alumni article in The Mercury, by Cassidy Audette,  Kyrstin Racine (‘11) shared her memories of studying with Cliff Timpson a former teacher of Latin at BFA.  Audette wrote, “[Racine´s] favorite teacher was Cliff Timpson, who…was ‘a gifted storyteller with many tales to tell’…He taught Latin, and Racine loved the fun events he would set up such as ‘Saturnalia’ as well as the annual Latin Day at UVM.”

Plans Continuing Forward

When asked how she intends on spending the rest of the year, Batten said that she plans on teaching her students to the best of her ability, so they can complete the course as successfully as possible. “My sense of purpose as a teacher to do my best for my students allows me nothing less.”