Berkeley High School Latin teacher John Piazza runs and organizes the BHS Latin club. Students have found it fosters a safe and very close community, as they are all able to bond over having one thing in common; they are all learning or are interested in the unique language, Latin.
Most students join the Latin club because the Latin teacher, John Piazza, enthusiastically encourages them to. “Mr. Piazza often talks about it. He advertises it to every single Latin student,” said Tim Samba, a BHS junior and a student in Latin 3. Samba did not end up joining the club until his sophomore year at BHS, but shared that he also loves the way the class is built in general.
“(Mr. Piazza) gives you the materials you can use to further your own learning. He doesn’t want to enforce this rigid curriculum, like a lot of more traditional Latin teachers,” Samba said. Others agreed with this appreciation for Piazza’s refreshing teaching style.
Sophia Novick-Prucher, a BHS junior and secretary of the Latin club said, “We sing a song in Latin every week. As you get into later stages, we read a lot… We basically just have so much Latin that we experience and talk about and see everyday that you start to inherently understand more of the grammar and how the language works.”
This way of learning Latin differs from programs at some other schools because Mr. Piazza takes a very modern and inclusive approach to teaching the language and developing the environment of the club.
“Many Latin club leaders I’ve encountered (at other schools) really have their eyes on leadership experience for college applications,” Piazza said. “Our students can do all that too, but we don’t really have that ‘college resume’ vibe, so to speak. As a teacher and a scholar, I have tried to model for my students a vision of academic excellence that is curiosity-driven and non-competitive, because it can get very toxic, and a lot less fun.”
The club strives to be accepting and welcoming, while allowing the students to gain a deeper understanding of Latin and the ancient Mediterranean world. They organize and attend many different events including weekly gatherings, potlucks, and even state conventions.
This November, the Latin club is representing BHS at a convention organized by the California Junior Classical League. Novick-Prucher said, “The JCL (Junior Classical League), in general has a pretty unfortunate long history of being problematic because it’s (an) older group of people who really are valuing the classics and the way things were in Mediterranean society… Everytime we go, we kind of try to push the needle just a little bit.”
Attendees of the convention get to participate in a variety of fun activities at the convention, including a Latin based trivia competition, jousting on top of a bouncy house, art competitions, Latin lectures, karaoke in Latin, chariot racing, and much more.
Something that keeps the Latin club members returning to Latin club each and every year is the tight-knit community it provides.
“Latin Club gives students access to a really tight and supportive, yet open-minded and inclusive community,” Piazza said. “Many of them are academically successful, but our gatherings have a more casual or playful feel, even when we are taking care of official business.” He says that the club provides students a sense of belonging and the experience of a judgment-free setting.