Is (AP) Latin dead in W-JCC?

Written into its mission, Williamsburg-James City County Schools arm students for 21st-century success, including achieving a "global awareness."

With that comes a commitment to world languages, according to the division's strategic plan.

Speaking at a School Board meeting June 20, 14-year-old Kaitlyn Baker questioned that pledge.

"I find that the new budget has resulted in unexpected casualties which are AP World Language classes," said Kaitlyn, a Jamestown High School rising sophomore. "This is problematic because, as studies have shown, studying world languages offers many cognitive benefits to high school students."

Kaitlyn is editor of Jamestown's chapter of the Junior Classical League and plans to join Latin Honor Society in the fall. She tried to register for a spring 2018 Advanced Placement Latin course but said she was later told not enough students were interested, and the class wouldn't be taught next year at Jamestown.

Jamestown Principal Cathy Worley confirmed that was the case with AP Latin, but added that the final master schedule won't be finished until August.

"As of right now there wasn't enough student interest to run the course," Worley said. "We haven't changed anything at all about our master schedule process. It's based on student interest, teacher availability and having enough students to fill a class."

Worley said AP Latin, along with many other courses, is available online through Virtual Virginia, a Virginia Department of Education virtual learning program.

Kaitlyn's case is one of a handful each year. Counselors try to accommodate each student's request, but it doesn't always work out, Worley said.

15 students

The budget does affect course offerings, school spokeswoman Betsy Overkamp-Smith said. It determines how many teachers are hired and how schools dedicate resources.

"The budget does play a huge role in course offerings because the budget does determine how many courses can be offered," Overkamp-Smith said. "This year's budget (is) tighter, so earlier this year there was a reminder to keep the courses closer to 15 students."

Fifteen is the guideline number of students needed to offer a course, Overkamp-Smith said. She quickly added there are other considerations, such as availability of courses online or of teachers in the building.

It hasn't been enforced so much in the past. Last year at Jamestown, AP Latin was taught with only eight students enrolled. At Lafayette, Advanced German Conversation was offered with five students enrolled.

AP Spanish at Jamestown is the only AP language class included in the preliminary master schedule for 2017-18 with fewer than 15 students — it has eight. AP French will be offered at Warhill because it's being combined with Advanced French Conversation to make eight students.

Other options

When a course isn't offered in a classroom, students have three options, W-JCC World Languages Coordinator Pat Tilghman said.

They can take it online; two courses could be combined as the Warhill French class is; or students can travel to another school that offers the class. The last option isn't often the choice because of additional travel logistics, Tilghman said.

AP-level courses in Spanish, French and Latin are available through Virtual Virginia at no additional cost to the students. AP German is not offered through the program.

"Curriculum-wise, I think the curriculum structure (of Virtual Virginia) is fairly similar. There is a communicative interaction that face-to-face classes offer but there are other ways to simulate that for online courses," Tilghman said. "Are students disadvantaged? I don't think so."

Online courses are a way to ensure students experience the classes they want even if they're not offered at their home school, Overkamp-Smith said.

Student interest

Student interest dwindles at the higher levels in the language curriculum — particularly past the levels required by the state to graduate, she said.

For a standard diploma, high school students must pass one level of a world language and for the advanced diploma, they must pass three. More than 65 percent of W-JCC graduates in 2016 were awarded the advanced diploma, according to W-JCC's 2016 portrait of a graduate.

Students must complete level four before qualifying for advanced or AP language classes. Kaitlyn is one of the few students who take world language study to the top level. She wants to be a lawyer and said understanding Latin is a way to get ahead.

"AP classes, despite being very enriching, are not very popular with students," Kaitlyn said. "For those of us that really appreciate those classes, it's really disheartening (they're not offered face-to-face)."

Including Kaitlyn, four students at Jamestown and one at Warhill requested AP Latin next year, according to scheduling data provided by W-JCC. Other classes requested, but not part of the preliminary schedule, include AP German Language at Lafayette (3 students); AP Spanish Language at Lafayette (7) and AP Spanish Literature at Jamestown (1); AP French Language at Jamestown (2) and Lafayette (6).

Other than German, the AP language courses are available through Virtual Virginia.

"It's our goal to meet kids' expectations and get all classes scheduled as they want them. We put students first," Worley said. "We want to produce a master schedule that meets the needs of a majority of our students, that's what we're working on."

The schedule will be done by August, which is when counselors will work with students whose requests weren't met, Worley said.

Kaitlyn will be taking global studies instead of AP Latin next spring but plans to jump back in her junior year.

Williams can be reached by phone at 757-345-2341.

AP World Language enrollment by the numbers:

2014-15 school total/Spanish/French/German*/Latin

Jamestown: 1313 students/16 /0/11/8

Lafayette: 1160 students/19/10/13/1 online

Warhill: 1164 students/1 online/8/0/5 online

2015-16 school total/Spanish/French/German*/Latin

Jamestown: 1308/13/2 online/5/1 online

Lafayette: 1209/18/0/0/3 online

Warhill: 1188/6/0/0/0

2016-17 school total/Spanish/French/German*/Latin

Jamestown: 1350/20/8/1 combined class/8

Lafayette: 1162/13/9/0/0

Warhill: 1305/6/10/0/3 online

*Not offered online through Virtual Virginia

Source: VDOE and W-JCC Schools 

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