Latin teacher Tom Herpel shares the benefits of his course


Debra Klevens

In Latin teacher Tom Herpel’s Latin 3 class, Herpel sets up a chariot race in his room. Junior Madi Michajliczenko won the first race in a series of six and was crowned with the laurel wreath of victory. “The race was weirdly stressful. The entire class was cheering for who they wanted to win and counting laps. At one point, everyone lost count, and I had to complete an extra lap to make sure I got the seven needed. When I finally crossed the finish line, Katie Henak, the person counting my laps, and I were excited because I won,” Michajliczenko said.

With more than half of English words rooted in Latin, Latin teacher Tom Herpel is surprised that only 100 students enrolled in the 22-23 school year program. Herpel believes that students think Latin is useless in today’s world; however, this belief could not be farther from the truth.  

Herpel helps students connect Latin and English and shows them that much of their environment derives from ancient Rome. 

“My students [can] learn more about the English language through Latin because many of our grammatical rules come from Latin. We’re learning about gladiators, ancient Egypt, ancient Britain, Latin text [and] things that students have never seen before, [so] giving the students an environment to be able to ask questions is really important to me,” Herpel said.

Senior Caroline Bergh says Latin is helpful because, when she comes across a word in English she doesn’t understand, she can pick apart the word and get an idea of what it means from Latin suffixes.

“I’ve learned a lot about history, world leaders and ancient Rome [in Latin class]. It’s influenced me to be more curious and try to tie what I’m learning to real life. It [has] forced me to have a different perspective,” Bergh said.

Herpel’s students get a deeper look at how the ancient world revolved around Latin in Latin class. Different cultures, empires and Roman history are all intertwined with the language. For example, Latin goes over the words, infrastructure, clothing, gender equality and food from the Roman Empire. 

“[Latin class] has something to offer that modern languages do not. I think the nice thing about Latin is that it’s so interdisciplinary. You can apply things that you learned from Latin to not only the English language but to the other Romance languages. You can also apply it to history class, art, science, medicine, crime and law [and] many different things. I believe it’s an incredibly useful language to [learn],” Herpel said.

Herpel says that since Latin is not a spoken language, middle and high school students are not interested in the course and would rather take Spanish and French classes.

This is my job. This is my life. I want to hang up my jersey in the rafters here at West when I’m done. In other words, it’s in my best interest to keep things going and I will do everything I can to do that.”

— Latin teacher Tom Herpel

“Students don’t understand how beneficial [Latin] can be at an early age. The number of times that I’ve heard my friends say, ‘Gosh, I wish I took Latin. I wish I [had] started with Latin. I wish I had time to switch to Latin,’ it opens my eyes to the fact that we need to better explain how universal, useful and interesting Latin is at those earlier grade levels,” Herpel said.

Bergh spent all of high school in class with Herpel. Over the years, Bergh made popsicle stick bridges, raced chariots with spears on the desks, fought gladiators with socks and even wore a gladiator suit for a day for students to learn about the culture that comes with Latin. Herpel tries to expand the topics covered by the Latin curriculum by striving to teach subjects like Greek Mythology and Roman History to catch the interest of students who would be willing to learn those subjects.

“Every student should take Latin. I think it’s such a great eye-opening language to learn, although you’re not going to speak it. It’s super cool to experience the language and the culture behind it. Every student should give Latin a try, especially with Mr. Herpel. He is just such a great teacher. I would recommend any student to join Latin,” Bergh said.

Latin teaches complex prefixes used in medicine. For junior Adam Lancia, he plans to go into the medical field and sees the benefits of the course.

“Latin prefixes and words are still used in the medical field so it would serve as a good background for my field,” Lancia said, “Latin is not like an ordinary language [class] where you’re going to do speaking, writing, listening, reading tests and like that. Instead, we have a lot more [focus on] culture and activities.”

Lancia believes a good way to promote the Latin culture around Parkway is through the Latin club. He also believes that the Latin club should visit the middle school around registration time to give students an introduction to what the Latin program has to offer. 

“[Latin club] could help support and get the word out there about the Latin program because I know I saw Latin as a joke and a dying language when I was in middle school. But I think just raising some awareness about it other than just a name on the paper that they can pick would be better. It’s really sad because I think kids would enjoy Latin a lot. A lot of students that are in Latin right now don’t want to lose the Latin [program],” Lancia said.

There is a possibility of Latin being dropped by Parkway in the next few years and the factors of this decision include middle and high schools getting new principals and Pierremont Elementary students leaving the student body. However, Herpel feels confident that the Latin program will be fine regardless of the many changes in the upcoming school years. 

“I assume that a class [like mine] would want to be kept in the academic student guide here at West. We have a good reputation for a strong curriculum in helping students succeed. This is my job. This is my life. I want to hang up my jersey in the rafters here at West when I’m done. In other words, it’s in my best interest to keep things going and I will do everything I can to do that,” Herpel said.