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Jan 11, 2018 11:14 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Amagansett School Adds New Language Courses

Jan 12, 2018 9:14 AM

Celeste Tracy has been teaching Latin for nearly 20 years and said she has yet to see a student bored or unenthused by the subject matter.

“I have rarely encountered a student in my career who said, ‘Oh we’re gonna be learning Latin, really?’” Ms. Tracy said. “It’s more like ‘Really?! Like the gods?! And the togas?! And the olives?!’”

The students of the Amagansett School are experiencing that enthusiasm first-hand since classes resumed on January 2, now that the school has welcomed Ms. Tracy, who is teaching American Sign Language and Latin. The two new courses were added to the school’s Spanish language course already provided, with sign language being taught to kids in kindergarten through third grade and Latin taught in grades three through six.

Ms. Tracy took over for Thomas O’Leary, who served as a part-time Spanish teacher before resigning last fall. Speaking over the phone recently, Superintendent Eleanor Tritt and Principal Maria Dorr discussed Ms. Tracy’s 18-year background in education—she had previously taught English and Latin in the parochial school system before transferring to public education and teaching in Westhampton and Syosset.

“Foreign language teachers are in demand and we’re very fortunate with Celeste having a background in sign language and Latin,” Ms. Tritt said. “Latin has been an important language for everyone to understand the root of our language and broaden the understanding of languages. Very few people have the certification or the knowledge to teach Latin, but it’s certainly something that everyone wants to have.”

Ms. Tritt pointed out the benefit of kids learning sign language at a young age to help them communicate with people with disabilities who also use sign language.

“The ability to understand and communicate with sign language is definitely a benefit to anyone,” she said.

Throughout her teaching career, Ms. Tracy said that she’s found that kids who learn sign language at young ages build up their “kinesthetic learning,” or their hands-on learning skills, by using their hands to sign. She added that learning sign language early on allows kids to pick up other languages like Spanish and Latin at an accelerated rate. As for Latin, Ms. Tracy described it as the “building block of language” that helps students learn other languages and other subjects quicker.

“The children have a greater potential for when they go into middle school and high school,” she said. “Regardless of what foreign language they choose, whatever subject they’re in they will be able to pick up any subject at an accelerated rate versus a child who either was not exposed to a foreign language or only one foreign language.”

Ms. Dorr chimed in by saying that teaching sign language to younger and, as she said, “more tactile” students helps further develop their vocabulary. She added that as the kids gets older and verbal skills in their native language grow more sophisticated, the knowledge of Latin and its history establishing many commonly-used words further enriches that.

“We felt that offering these three opportunities for three different types of languages would really broaden their horizons so that when they do get to the high school and college, if they decide to do a foreign language study then they have more of a repertoire of languages versus just focusing on one,” Ms. Dorr said.

December 2 was Ms. Tracy’s first day teaching in Amagansett and she said it has been “an absolutely smooth transition” into her new position. She said her Latin class had students already invested in learning not only about the language itself but the time frame of when the language was used in ancient Rome.

“The enthusiasm is tremendous and when they bring that energy into it, more energy is generated,” she said. “My number one objective is to draw a connection with the students.”

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