The Chomp

The Student News Site of Gateway Regional High School

The Chomp

The Student News Site of Gateway Regional High School

The Chomp

The Student News Site of Gateway Regional High School

The Ills or Merits of Online Latin:

A Debate
Two soldiers of the Roman age dueling it out in an open field, created by Magic Media in Canva
Canva AI
Two soldiers of the Roman age dueling it out in an open field, created by Magic Media in Canva

Staff writer, Alex Noble, and Editor-in-Chief, Laurel Barrett, debate the ills and merits of the online Latin program, Educere, that students are using until Mrs. Cross returns. Alex writes about student frustrations, and Laurel offers its hidden strengths. Read to the end to hear both sides, and consider weighing in yourselves in a comment.

Side 1: Against

By Alex Noble, grade 10

Online learning is frustrating.

The Latin program at Gateway is dealing with a pronounced significant conundrum, edging into what many students call a state of disarray, in part due to the absence of our beloved Mrs. Cross, who left for maternity leave a few months ago. Unfortunately, the school has been unable to secure a certified long-term substitute, due to the national world language teacher shortage. This shortage is leaving students to struggle with an online course from Educere, which many students believe fails to deliver on multiple levels.

To start, the online course is a hodgepodge of materials scattered across two websites with little semblance of unity or coherent design. One website consists of writing assignments without instructional content, while the other scrapes together an assortment of unengaging PowerPoints. 

“I haven’t learned anything useful.”

— Desmond McCue, Latin II Student

Quite often, the content appears disconnected from the curriculum and delves into topics of questionable relevance. 

As Desmond also said,  “I should be learning about the ancient Roman Empire, not how to say baseball in Latin. I’m not joking. That was a whole lesson.”

On the whole, the courses teach content which is less advanced than what we would otherwise learn. However, the assignments come off as college-level. But we are not receiving college-level instruction; there are not even videos for us to watch.

The learning experience is further complicated by the lack of group work. Since this course is clearly designed for individuals to complete alone, students must sign an honor pledge for every assignment, stating, “I have neither given nor received aid on this assignment.” This is in stark contrast to language classes’ general communal interpretation of foreign texts. 

If you need help in Educere, you can message a teacher in real-time—but only between the hours of 4 and 7 PM. How convenient! This transforms a five-minute few-turn conversation into a several day correspondence. The lack of feedback results in subsequent assignments being submitted by woefully unprepared students.

Furthermore, the assignments are graded remotely by instructors who do not implement a uniform grading system. The same assignment can be graded by one as 100 and another as 75. This is done without much feedback. You can reach out after the fact, but again, you can not retake it.

Due to the absence of a teacher, the school has made retake policies more lenient. In Latin 7, 8, and II students are allowed to resubmit any assignments for a better grade. In Latin III and IV, the online program does not allow any retakes—and after several requests to the tech support, the company has outright rejected this change. 

The school administration has also attempted to lower the burden of the course. Specifically, students may take notes on lessons, and this can raise their lower quiz grades. The school will also drop as many low grades as possible. These are small concessions that do not fix the problems with the course; they simply reduce the impact on students’ academic record. It remains that we are not learning as much as we would otherwise, which hinders our overall understanding of the subject.

According to documentation obtained by this author through an Open Public Records Act request in November 2023, the school has spent a total of $15,215.50 on Educere, $199.50 each for some 50 students (presumably Latin 7, 8, II) and $274.50 for 19 students (presumably Latin III and IV). This is not an unreasonable price for an online learning program, but for this product, many students believe that it is not worth the price tag.

In defense of the school, they did search for an alternate program to Educere. I learned that the school administration kept a job posting up for several months to find a certified long-term substitute, but that they received zero applicants. The current teacher shortages are ravaging schools across the country, affecting language programs even more due to their relative niche. I mean, do you know anyone with a classics degree?

It has been a frustrating experience for many. 

Educere has not responded to a request for comment.

 


Side 2: For

By Laurel Barrett, grade 11

Latin has always been an exciting, educational program at Gateway, mostly thanks to Mrs. Cross and her passion for not only teaching but also for the language itself. For those who have had her in past years, they know that she frames her classes in a way that makes students just as eager to learn and expand their knowledge on all aspects of Latin and Rome. 

We are all sad that we are missing Mrs. Cross for the first half of this year, but we are very happy for her and her new baby. Thanks to Mrs. Cross’s diligent preparation before her leave, which includes letting her students in on the process of choosing their virtual program, I believe that we as Latin students are more than capable of handling the Educere Latin programs. 

While the Educere program may not be everyone’s cup of tea, I can attest that Gateway did its absolute best to try and find a fill-in Latin teacher prior to Mrs. Cross’s leave. Latin is such a niche subject, and while Gateway is lucky to have a program and an awesome teacher, not all schools are as fortunate. Language teachers in general, but especially Latin teachers, have been harder and harder to find. I am the membership chair of the NJ Junior Classical League, and I can attest to the fact that schools drop out each year because their programs get cut entirely, or they can’t staff them. It’s unfortunate.

Likewise, with the little time that Gateway had to find a substitute, coupled with the nation-wide shortage they were challenged with, it is not fair to say that Gateway simply left us Latin students to deal with a faulty program. On the contrary, we are lucky we’ve been able to continue our studies.

I am in the Latin IV program, and it is true that the Educere site has been somewhat difficult in accommodating Gateway’s retake and correction policies, but as a whole, I am grateful that we have a program that allows us to relearn the basics while learning more about Latin culture. The structure of my course consists of 7-9 page lessons followed by a short quiz or mini-project. Examples of these include translation assignments, speaking assessments, and group-discussion forums. 

I enjoy having the freedom to study whenever and wherever I choose and to learn at my own speed. I do find it advantageous that I can move at my own pace and am not required to follow a certain schedule.

— Nurain Namira, Latin IV Student

While Mrs. Cross always did her best to ensure that we were exposed to enough Roman culture and had an understanding of the basics, we didn’t always have time to delve as deeply as we wanted into these. With this self-paced program that features both of these topics, we as students get to choose to have the best of both worlds: new and review information as well as insightful cultural lessons. While the material may not always be as advanced as what Mrs. Cross would be teaching us, it will set us up better for what we will learn when she returns. While we can’t directly work on assignments together, the forums allow us to see what our classmates think and give us the chance to have intellectual discussions with them.

Gateway administration has been very generous and helpful during these tricky times. Not only did Gateway purchase this costly program for all of us, but they have since been ensuring that we get the most out of the experience and what the program has to offer. They have kept Gateway’s promise of retakes through compromise by dropping our lowest grades, allowing us to turn in study notes for additional credit, and using their own time to check in on Latin classrooms and assure that everyone is on track. 

Our amazing substitute, Ms. Kline, has a piece of advice for students who are struggling with the program: 

We have resources for you all to use, such as the Ecce Romani books, dictionaries, and even online resources. I know it is difficult, but we should use what we have in order to succeed until January.

— Ms. Kline, substitute teacher

 

The most important aspect that we Latin students are rewarded within this program is the opportunity to learn some motivation and personal responsibility. Sure, some lessons are hard, and the assignments can be tedious, but isn’t that how we as students grow? Personally, I work hard on my lessons in class so that I have some time remaining for studying in other classes, and if I’m particularly busy one day, I can prioritize another class during Latin, and then finish my Latin work in the evening. I enjoy the flexibility. 

Similarly, I opted to take an online AP Chemistry course through the APEX program this year. It certainly has its flaws and can be profoundly frustrating at times, but the convenience of deciding your own schedule and choosing your own organization and note-taking methods is very freeing and rewarding. I am not a staunch supporter of online learning programs by any means, but I believe that such programs can serve as a fantastic tool when needed, and sometimes they can surprise us. Without APEX, I wouldn’t have realized that chemistry is my passion and what I want to pursue in my college years.

Without a little bit of struggle and frustration every once in a while, how will we learn to persevere when life throws curve balls? Instead of feeling like a victim to circumstance, I’d rather make the decision to handle the situation head on the best way that I can and with the resources and compromises that administration has offered us. This online Latin program isn’t the most terrible challenge we students have had to endure. Never mind the fact that it is only temporary. I know many students who are handling it well and have kept up their grades where they typically like them. The next time a challenge faces us, we’ll be ready from navigating this experience.

As a Latin student and human being, I am grateful for the effort that Gateway, its administration, and our substitute teacher have put in for all of us. And congratulations to Mrs. Cross on her new baby. We hope she is enjoying her time together with her new family, and we can’t wait to have her back!

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About the Contributors
Laurel Rose Barrett, Editor-in-Chief
I'm Laurel Barrett, and I am in my second year as the Editor-in-Chief of The Chomp! I am currently a junior, and my favorite subjects are English and Science. My hobbies are reading, writing, and creating artistic projects, like posters and models. I am a lawyer in Mock Trial, a President of Book Club, and I am an NJ-JCL Executive Board Officer. I'm also a member of Latin Club, NHS, World Language Honors Society, and Gateway's Mentor Program. Additionally, I am the social media manager of a NJ non-profit called P.U.R.E. Girls, Inc. and enjoy volunteering at Angels Community Outreach. I plan to become a patent lawyer in the future and practice somewhere in New England. I look forward to interviewing featured teachers, writing opinion pieces, and creating book reviews for The Chomp this year! If you want to join our team, feel free to email me @[email protected].
Alex Noble, Staff Writer
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