When Bill Clausen started teaching Greek I in the fall of 2015, he and Dr. Smith felt that adding a second classical language was the logical next step for our school. Mr. Clausen, who joined Washington Latin in our second year, teaches Latin and humanities courses, and chairs both the Classics Department and the Classical Committee. There are many reasons to study ancient Greek, especially to have a deeper understanding of the themes of truth, goodness and beauty at the heart of our program. Those interested in ancient Greek literature, including mythology, ought to have the opportunity to read some of these texts in the original language. And Ancient Greek is the foundation of many English words.
In December of 2016, Howard Moore, who was the head of classics at multiple schools in the U.K., joined the school and took on the Greek classes. Now Washington Latin offers Greek I, II, and III, with a current junior preparing to be our first Greek IV student next fall. Before teaching at Washington Latin, Mr. Moore taught Latin, Greek, and ancient history in the U.K. and Australia, with classes as large as 28 to 30 students. While there are only nine students enrolled in the three Greek classes at Washington Latin currently, this allows the classes to be particularly intimate and do more intensive language study.
Students read the Athenaze textbook to learn vocabulary and understand aspects of Greek religion, politics, and literature. As students progress through the Greek program, they have the chance to read more challenging texts like Plato’s Apology and Xenophon’s Hiero. As in all Washington Latin classes, students in Greek have also had Socratic seminars on topics like what makes a myth. Several students enrolled in the Greek program have had the chance to continue their studies of classical languages through the Paideia Institute’s programs in Greece and Rome during the summer.
There were many intersections between Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome and peoples in both North and Sub-Saharan Africa. I have been exploring some of these in daily tweets in the last couple of weeks. (You can follow me @WashLatinHOS). We have also had a hallway display about some of the prominent black classicists. A public speaking contest, that we are launching this week, will be named in honor of one of those classicists.
The fact that the experiences of all people are not always celebrated or even recognized led to the establishment of Black History Month. Last week I tried to argue that American history needs to account for the people and stories of all America, not just those in power or those who represent a selective subset. As such, not only do we need to work to make our curriculum as inclusive as possible, but I would also urge families to visit various museums, galleries and historical sites in our city to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of a “fuller human experience.”
That said, this happens to be a time of year when people might be receptive to learning about or discussing issues and ideas related specifically to African Americans. Below, I will share a few resources with you and encourage you to explore them throughout the year and not just during the month of February.
Each year since 1928, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, which was founded by Carter G. Woodson, has provided a theme for Black History Month. This year’s theme, “Black Migrations,” offers the opportunity to discuss issues related to human migration and mobility, in this country and beyond.
Click here to access an archive of newspaper front pages from important dates in Civil Rights history. This site from The New York Times also includes other resources, such as lesson plans, crosswords and current materials. The Adolescent Literacy site offers access to video interviews, online museum displays, poems and much more. Smithsonian Education’s Black History Month Teaching Resourcesfeature various collections, from ‘The Blues and Langston Hughes’ to ‘Harlem Renaissance: A Reading List’. There is something for students of any grade level here. This Black History timeline from Biography follows African American history in the United States from 1619 to the present. The Biography site also includes a huge collection of other resources, about African Americans and people from a variety of other backgrounds.
If you follow me on Twitter, you can see that I have been tweeting about the black experience in the classical world. You can follow the string of tweets at the following hashtag: #BlacksinClassicalWorld.
Later this year, the country remembers 400 years since the first Africans were forcibly brought to this country. In August of 1619, a Dutch frigate landed in Point Comfort (site of modern-day Hampton, VA) with a cargo of “20 and odd Negros,” originally from southcentral Africa. These people were traded to English settlers, who desperately needed labor for their plantations. Students often read about this event in history books as the beginning of the slave trade in colonial North America and the beginning of African American history. The significance of this transaction in Jamestown notwithstanding, there is more to the story than most of have been taught.
When teaching 8th grade U.S. History, as I did the past two years, one of the essential questions I ask my students to consider is this: “whose story is being told?” Often the narratives that get written in textbooks are incomplete. As a “deeply racialized society,” stories of different groups are not equally acknowledged, affirmed, or valued. At Latin, we often ask students to imagine hidden or lost stories of and by diverse groups. Where possible, we try to bring to light perspectives not always considered. Our attention to this is not limited to one time of year (such as February) or to special event assemblies. This is just a part of what we do as a school.
We teach about Anthony Johnson, an African indentured servant who secured his freedom in Virginia in the first part of the 17th century. He owned land and livestock and had servants of his own. We teach about the interactions between Africa and the Western World, which date back as early as the time of the Mycenean civilization in Crete. We explore the Greek and Roman interest in and engagement with human diversity. We discuss prominent black classicists. We teach works by James Baldwin, Ta-Nahesi Coates, Langston Hughes and others. We do this because our understanding and appreciation of American history and culture is incomplete if we fail to consider the experiences of all our people — whether Caucasian, African American, Native, Latinx, or Asian-American.
To name 1619 as the beginning date for slavery in America oversimplifies the complicated history of Africans in this part of the world. Not all Africans were slaves for life. Some, who were brought over as indentured servants, were able to buy their freedom (just as was the case for many European indentured workers). Some, such as blacks who worked in Bermuda in 1616, were consulted for their expertise with cash crops. And, African slaves visited America, as members of Spanish expeditions, as early as 1526. Not all these facts can be included in our regular curriculum. And so, to expose more of our students to this information, last year students and faculty collaborated on the launching of an educational high school club called “Black Facts.” Through this and other efforts, we hope to gain a more complete picture of who we are as Americans.
For Washington Latin teachers, a commitment to reading is not limited to the books we assign in class. For many years we have assigned books for our whole faculty to read over the summer. And often groups of teachers will decide to form book clubs. This year we are continuing to build on this tradition, with monthly books that teachers commit to read as part of a Faculty Reads Initiative. The purpose of the monthly book clubs is to find common ground and a lens to dig deeper into some of the challenging aspects of teaching to better inform our practice. Just like the discussion-based book groups which engage our students in English and history classes, our teacher groups are full of lively discussion and thoughtful reflections.
In August, some of us read The Trauma Informed School: A Step-by-Step Implementation Guide for Administrators and School Personnel. This book gave faculty the chance to think about how to address some of the challenging lives students may lead and build community systems and rules that respect their experiences. My leadership team also read Leadership is an Art by Max DePree. We followed up in September with Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria: And Other Conversations About Race. This book, by Beverly Tatum, sparked complex and thoughtful discussions about race and segregation, and helped us better approach the idea of diversity and inclusion.
In December, we launched two groups. Some read Teaching with the Brain in Mind, a book by Eric Jensen about neurological development, which helped teachers re-consider how we plan lessons and activities, based specifically on the most current research on the developing adolescent brain. Others read Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You’d Had by Tracy Johnston Zager.
At the end of this month, we will start two new groups. Some will read Why Don’t Students Like School, a book by psychology professor Daniel Willingham. Others will tackle Make it Stick, a book written by psychology researchers and management consultants that focuses on memory acquisition. If time permits, we will read The Hidden Lives of Learners by Graham Nuthall. an education professor. Finally, we will end the year with Millionaire Teacher: The Nine Rules of Wealth You Should Have Learned in School.
This semester we also kicked off book groups for parents. Dr. Smith is facilitating a study of The Teenage Brain. And, two of our faculty members are leading a study of Wendy Mogel’s The Blessing of a B Minus. See below for more information on this. There will be more to come after spring break. And even if you don’t participate in a school-sponsored club, we encourage you to dive into a good book. Happy Reading!
At Washington Latin, we have always valued athletics as central to our approach to learning and developing young adults. As part of the classical tradition, the challenges of physical strength and endurance were highly valued, and part of leading a balanced life. Like the soldier Pheidippides who raced from a battlefield in Marathon to the city of Athens, in 490 B.C., and the competitors in the first modern Olympic games in 1896 in Greece, feats of skill and speed were highly prized.
In the past two years we have grown our sports offerings and we look forward to being able to add even more programs in the future. Each year we are highly competitive in our league in multiple sports, most notably soccer, cross country and track and field. Under the leadership of one of the city’s most capable coaches, Mr. Jamille Callum, we have had an impressive showing in track, with two of our athletes – Luke Tewalt and Zoe Edelman – breaking records and distinguishing themselves at meets in the local area and beyond.
While many of our students bring their talents each season to the fields, courts and arenas where we compete, others pursue their athletic passions outside of our school. While we cannot highlight all these athletes, we want to pause for a moment here to celebrate some of these hard-working young people. Last year, freshman Changa Anderson, an ardent gymnast, placed first in the 13-14 year-old age group in both trampoline and double-mini trampoline at the USA Gymnastics Championships. He has also competed internationally at the World Competitions in St. Petersburg, Russia as part of Team USA in his age group. His athleticism was lauded in this article by Citypaper. Senior Daud Gantt-Bey, who competes in tennis outside of school, is one of the highest ranked players in the city and has a bright future in this sport.
Freshman Ja’Niece Austin-Lindsey participates in competitive cheering and stunts. Freshman Dylan Paglee takes part in competitive sailing. Sophomore Griffin Smith participates in a crew program. Sophomore Jia Fleming practices karate. Eighth grader Eleanor Ashdown is at a competition this week for figure skating. Fifth grader Eliza Lowenfish is a ballet dancer performing at the Kennedy Center this week. Sophomore Ella Norlen is also a serious ballet dancer, who studies with celebrated coaches after school and in the summer. Junior Aya Salem is a competitive horseback rider. Junior Ryan Bradley excels in Irish dance. Sophomore Katharine Roslof enjoys rowing. Junior Felicity and senior Miranda Ryan and sophomore Aviel Honey have all honed their skills in Jiu Jitsu. Junior Zoe Crute has skied competitively.
The self-discipline to participate in rigorous athletic competition and maintain high levels of physical fitness outside of the classroom is a source of pride to many students. We encourage students to learn more about each other’s extra-curricular passions and attend a friend’s athletic event afterschool or on the weekend. We will continue to honor their achievements and hard work in the Legenda and on the website! So, please send us more information.
Washington Latin students have busy days, complete with rigorous classes, electives, and clubs. Whether students choose to play sports, participate in the school musical, “The Music Man,” write for the newspaper Sumus Leones, or the literary magazine, “Open Mic,” or prepare an act for the middle school talent show, there are many creative outlets for students during lunch and after school. However, many students eagerly pursue outside endeavors, despite their heavy workloads.
Sophomore Miles Tiller is one of those students. Besides a full slate of honors and AP classes and his volunteer hours in the makerspace, Miles has indulged an interest in screenwriting and video production for several years, producing several movies of his own. As an eighth grader, a project that he worked on with his classmates Ketan and Lucien, called “99 cents,” won an award at the environmental film festival. Since then, he has worked on lengthier efforts, including the 48-minute movie “Green” – the product of his company “District Pictures” and featuring several other sophomore actors like Nick Mazza, Ketan Mampara, and Lucas Roemer as actors. You can view his movie here.
Many other students participate in creative writing activities outside of school and have won awards for their work. Junior MK Wilson and freshman Kayla Freedman were both honored by Writopia. High schoolers Chloe Cattaneo, Christina Spraggins and Micah Gans and sixth grader Clarke Oglesby all had original work published last year in an anthology of young writers.
While for some the arts awaken their passions, others pursue athletics in a variety of arenas outside the school. We will talk about some of these students in a future Legenda. I am awed and excited by the hard work of our students each day, but always amazed to find students who find the time and energy to continue to pursue and cultivate their passions outside of the classroom. If your child has a unique hobby or interest, feel free to drop me a note about it! Our diverse and talented student body help build the unique and rich culture of our school.