Desert Vista's Latin team wins state title and converts
The Arizona Republic
May. 5, 2006

Colleen Sparks

Many teens study Spanish in school, but a unique Desert Vista High School team is instead taking the Latin world by storm - and converting students in the process.

A 16-member student team studying Latin took first place at the Arizona Junior Classical League's state Latin competition on Saturday at Phoenix Country Day School in Paradise Valley.

Two Desert Vista freshmen - Charley Rowland and David Gilmore - will compete at a national convention in late July to early August in Indiana, said Sarah Palumbo, Desert Vista's Latin teacher. Understandably, Spanish rules in the Southwest as the foreign language of choice at high schools. But the power behind its multi-linguistic roots remains a key element in higher education.

"Latin is not big in Arizona, it's bigger back in the East Coast states.
Latin students are scoring the highest of other language students on the SATs" on the verbal portion because 60 percent of English vocabulary comes from Latin, Palumbo said.

Students won the state event based on written test scores, athletic skills (throwing a pool noodle like a javelin and other games), artistic talents creating Roman-style artwork and recitation of a myth or poetry, she said.

More than a half-dozen other schools, including one from Las Vegas and the rest from Arizona, competed at Saturday's convention, added Palumbo, who is also the Arizona Junior Classical League's state chairwoman.

Last school year, Desert Vista only had 33 students in its Latin classes and this year it has 80, Palumbo said. She said she expects 160 Latin students next year.

Seventy-six Desert Vista students who study Latin at the Ahwatukee Foothills school also took the National Latin Exam in March. About 50 of them earned awards, Palumbo said.

Five of the 76 earned perfect scores on the exam that measures students'
ability to read, comprehend and analyze Latin, plus show their knowledge of Roman culture and life, she said. Only about 920 students out of 135,000 in the United States and 13 other countries achieved a perfect score, she said.

Students who earn gold medals or perfect scores for three or four years in a row are eligible for scholarships, Palumbo said.

Of Desert Vista's Latin students, many also earned gold medals or "summa cum laude," meaning "with the highest praise," and several earned silver medals or "maxima cum laude."

Desert Vista sophomore Kathryn Zurmehly, 16, said she was surprised she got a perfect score on the exam.

"It means a lot; I've never been really good at foreign language before,"
Zurmehly said. "I took Spanish for a few years. I like Latin much better. I like the way it sounds and the way the structure works."

Latin student Jacqueline Chikos, a 15-year-old Desert Vista freshman, also said she was surprised she got all the answers right on the exam.

"I knew I got most of them right, I didn't think I'd get 100 (percent),"
Chikos said. "I was sick of Spanish so I chose the next best thing. The other languages offered were French and German; those don't really help you out a lot around here."

Other perfect scores were recorded by: Kendra Williamson, Nina Martin and Sarah Schulhauser.