Latin is now compulsory for kindergarteners through eighth graders at Mission Dolores Academy, according to principal Meredith Essalat, offering the diverse student body a “unifying” language where no student is at a disadvantage in the development of language skills.

“It’s a new curriculum for everyone,” said Essalat, who introduced the program at the beginning of the 2017-18 academic year with Latin teacher Samantha Alfonso.

Mission Dolores Academy students come from a combination of English, Spanish, Tagalog and Eritrean primary speaking households among others, she said. In Latin, they find common ground.

“We’re finding that Latin really levels the playing field,” she said.

Studies have shown that the study of Latin makes an immediate impact on the development of a student’s vocabulary as well as on reading comprehension, said Essalat. It also has a positive “ripple effect” on performance in the sciences.

Latin is the root of Romance languages such as Spanish, Italian and French. While English is considered a Germanic language, about 80 percent of the entries in any English dictionary are borrowed from Latin.

Many Latin words and phrases such as “per se,” “status quo,” “ad lib” and “verbatim” are commonly used by English speakers, who may not realize the words are actually Latin. Latin is the lexicon of science, law and religion.

MDA Latin teacher Samantha Alfonso was a pre-nursing student struggling with medical terminology, which is overwhelmingly Latin-derived, when she decided to take Latin in her second year of college. It so transformed her learning experience that she switched majors to language arts.

“When I started taking Latin, it all began making sense,” she said. “I could better see how English works.”

Alfonso teaches Latin at three levels, in two weekly sessions for each. Kindergartners and first- and second-graders for 20 minutes; third through fifth graders for 30-40 minutes and sixth through eighth graders for one hour.

To make it fun, she sometimes incorporates popular books with Latin translations into her classes, such as Dr. Seuss’ “Green Eggs and Ham,” “Harry Potter” by J.K. Rowling and her personal favorite, “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein.

Full story at Catholic San Francisco.