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College Students Bring Classics to D.C. Elementary Schools

April 29, 2019 — Savannah Willard (C’22) is one of two Georgetown students who have introduced a new Latin language tutoring curriculum to elementary school students through the Center for Social Justice Hill Hoyas Inspire Learners (HILL) program.

The HILL program (formerly known as Young Diplomats) brings Georgetown students to a D.C. elementary school to tutor their students in different languages. This academic year, the program elected to include classical languages in its tutoring offerings, so organizers reached out to the College’s Department of Classics.

Willard tutors for five to 10 Fridays each semester. At the end of the semester, her group of tutees gives a performance. This semester, they’ll perform the song “Let It Go” from Disney’s Frozen — all in Latin.

Willard has found that young students are receptive to learning classical languages in ways that many older students are not.

“It’s so funny, because since Latin is a dead language, there’s a tendency for people to be like ‘What’s the point?’” she said. “But these kids don’t realize that. It’s just another language for them. For them, it’s a cool thing to be able just to learn a language.”

Each of Willard’s lessons has a different focus: One week they might work on numbers, and the next they’ll focus on grammar. However, the goal is not only to teach vernacular and syntax, but also to help the students better understand Roman culture. That’s where Willard’s experience studying classics has helped.

“In high school none of my professors were as passionate as Professor Osgood is about how Latin reflects the Roman culture overall,” said Willard about Classics Department Chair Josiah Osgood. “Not only did I learn about grammar from him, but there was a lot of meaning and culture from it as well, a lot of imagination exercises. And I think I’ve really tried to keep that approach in mind when I’ve been talking to the kids too.”

Willard also appreciates how the size of the department has given her opportunities to meet people at Georgetown and develop her own community.

“It’s such a small department, so you really get close to the professors, and they’re really passionate about what they do and about the students,” Willard said. “It’s [also] really cool because it has small enough majors that I’ve gotten to know a lot of the upperclassmen, too.”

While she hadn’t originally planned on studying classics in college, Willard found during her college application process that she was constantly referencing the material from her classical language courses.

“I just think that classics is such a building block for western society and explaining where we’re coming from,” she said. “Having done both semesters of intermediate Greek, I remember finally getting a Greek text to translate — it was the most exciting thing. I felt like I was just unlocking the door to a whole other world.”

Willard hopes to impart this view on her students in the HILL program, so they too can unlock that world. For herself, she is also considering major in classical studies here at Georgetown.

“Classics, everyone can relate to, to an extent,” Willard said. “The ideas the Greeks were considering are still ideas we’re working with today. And a lot of the problems they had, are problems we have today.”

— Darcy Palder

Humanities Initiative