A Brief History of Latin (and Greek) Teaching in Warren Co., Illinois

 

Latin (and Greek) have been taught in Warren Co. from early in the history of the region. The town of Monmouth was founded in 1831. Monmouth College opened its doors in 1853 to train ministers, teachers, lawyers and other professionals for the region. For this reason Latin (and Greek) were part of the collegeís curriculum from its founding. Indeed, until the 1930ís the study of either Latin or Greek was a graduation requirement. Unlike many other small liberal arts colleges, including Knox College and other ACM schools, Monmouth College has continued to offer both languages without interruption until the present day. For further information about Classics at Monmouth College, see this History of Classics.

Both Monmouth High School and Warren High School also offered Latin for their college-bound students. While Warren eventually abandoned the teaching of Latin at some point (probably in the 60ís or 70ís), the Latin program at Monmouth High School continued to exist.

Here is a list of Latin teachers gathered from Monmouth High School yearbooks, followed by some commentary:

1968-1969  Judith Tucker taught Latin 1,2,3 and sponsored club

1969-1970  Pat Odendahl taught Latin 1 & 2 and sponsored club

1970-1973   Margarite Hill sponsored a Latin Club. She taught English. No indication of Latin                                           classes being taught.

1973-1975  Mrs. Cathy Jackson taught Latin

1975-1976  Teresa Gorenz taught Latin

1976-1978 ??

1978-1988  Pat Odendahl

1988-1989  Jill Cali

1989-1991 Susan Yaremko

1991-1993  Virginia Hellenga

1993-1994  Jeff Schilling

1994-1995  Vicki Wine

1995- 2003  Jackie Urban

2003-2018 Brian Tibbets

In the 1980ís the Latin teacher was Pat Odendahl. When she retired in 1988, Jill Cali, recently graduated from the University of Illinoism was hired. She only lasted a year and was followed by Susan Yaremko. When she left in 1992, Virginia Hellenga replaced her. Hellenga was the Latin teacher until 1993.  Her students participated in both the Illinois Latin Tournament and in the National Latin Exam, in which some received national recognition.

She was succeeded by Jeff Schilling, a recent graduate from the University of Illinois who prided himself in scaring students from the study of Latin. Needless to say, when he left there was some danger at this point that the program would be cancelled due to low enrollments.  Members of the community, including Tom Sienkewicz from Monmouth College, attended school board meetings to speak in support of the program and, eventually, the district agreed to hire Jackie Urban to teach Latin part-time. However, she was scheduled to spend the fall semester of 1994  with her husband in the Czech Republic, so, in the interim, Vicki Wine taught in her place.  Jackie was the Latin teacher from 1995 until 2003. Although she was only part time, she often took her students to Junior Classical League conventions in the state and to cultural events in Chicago and elsewhere. In 1999-2000 the Monmouth High School Latin Club received the Outstadning Promotional Activity Award from the CAMWS Committee for the Promotion of Laitn (CPL).

But enrollments were decreasing and in the fall of 1999 such a small number of students had enrolled for Latin I that the Monmouth School Board was contemplating a phase-out of the high school Latin program, immediate elimination of Latin I and placement of those already enrolled for the fall in another language.

Chris Ayers and other members of the community worked to rouse community support for the Latin program.  A variety of Latin promotional materials were sent to School Board members. Meetings with the superintendent and high school principal, and the School Board led to a reprieve for Latin:  instead of canceling Latin I for the fall, the school board agreed to allow Latin to be offered to a class of six (instead of the official minimum of ten) and put the program on probation, with the understanding that Latin would be eliminated if ten students did not enroll in Latin 1 for the following school year (2000-2001).

A small group of determined citizens, led by Chris Ayers and Tom Sienkewicz, then held informal meetings to brainstorm about ways to increase enrollment and to increase public appreciation of the program. They decided upon holding an annual Classics Bee, modeled on the successful Spelling and Geography Bees already held in the District. They were able to persuade all the 5-8 grade teachers in the district, as well as the teachers at the local parochial school, to administer a machine-gradable 40 question multiple choice test designed both to suggest to students taking the test that they already knew a lot about Latin and to identify the high achievers at each grade. All of these high achievers were then invited to participate in a Classics Bee to which the public, especially family members were invited. All participants were given certifications of accomplishment and winners of the Bee were given prizes of books and US savings bonds. This Bee was remarkably successful in encouraging student to take Latin in high school and is still part of the Monmouth-Roseville Latin program today.

In 2002 Chris Ayers received a Special Service Award from the Classical Association of the Middle West and South for her efforts on behalf of the Latin program at Monmouth High School.

Brian Tibbets began teaching at Monmouth in 2003. Under his leadership the program thrived and grew and in 2008 he received the Farrand Baker Illinois Latin Teacher of the Year from the Illinois Classical Conference. In 2015 he received the Kraft Award for Excellence in High School Teaching from the Classical Association of the Middle West and South.

In 2005 Monmouth High School consolidated with Roseville High School to form Monmouth-Roseville High School.Monmouth-Roseville High School can boast proudly to be the smallest high school in the state of Illinois with a thriving Latin program.

A number of Monmouth College students training to be high school Latin teachers have benefitted from the existence of the high school program, where they were able to observe and even student teach. Tibbets was also the supervisor for a student teacher who is now the only high school Latin teacher in the state of Iowa.

Several points emerge from this history: The community has long supported the teaching of Latin in the local high school. High School students have benefitted greatly from the study of Latin. The existence of the Latin program at the high school is important to a thriving Latin teacher training program at Monmouth College. Most importantly, however, the Latin program in Monmouth-Roseville High School will only continue to exist with the vocal support of parents, students, and members of the community who do not take the program for granted and who continually express their support to officials at the school and on the school board.