I’m sure most of you who hang around here will have come across the awesome IRIS Project, whose mission is to give children from all walks of life an opportunity to learn about the languages and cultures of the ancient world. One of their initiatives is the Mayor of London’s Love Latin scheme, where Boris has put his money where his mouth is – after saying publically for so long that Latin is wonderful, he’s backing a scheme to get Latin into as many schools in the capital as possible, not just those in economically privileged areas. The scheme pairs volunteers with schools; the volunteers then go in to give a talk on whatever subject the school would like. Hopefully this then creates the opportunity for the school either to use the interest that generates in pupils to start teaching a new subject, to continue as members of the scheme next year, or to build on the experience in some other way.
Given that my roots are in London and that I too think it’s hugely important to let students from as many backgrounds know that classics is for them as much as it is for anybody else, signing up to be part of the scheme was a bit of a no-brainer. I wasn’t able to participate last year, which was the first year the project ran, but I was able to fit something into my schedule this year. So last week I pottered off to a primary school in Highams Park to give two Year Four classes an hour’s taster of Latin, as the beginning of their unit on the Romans.
I will admit to having some nerves about whether I’d aimed the talk at the right level – Year Four is eight and nine year olds, and while I had quite a lot to do with that age group when I was a teenager working with the YMCA Day Camps, it’s been a while since I engaged with them in a meaningful way. Thankfully, it soon turned out that I’d pitched it just right, with three activities for the hour and enough variety to keep the children engaged. They’ll be going to see the Pompeii and Herculaneum exhibition at the British Museum in May, so I finished off with a bit of graffiti – real graffiti, mind, albeit with a little bit of judicious age-appropriate editing and a very informative crib sheet (and thanks are due to Jane Draycott for pointing me in the direction of Ancient Graffiti in Context). They all got extremely excited about this, which is what I was hoping – even in a heavily supported fashion, that feeling of solving the puzzle of translation is a reward worth earning.
I’m still smiling over the feedback sheets that they’ve filled out for the IRIS project. There’s something about the unrestrained enthusiasm of that age group that makes you grin – not to mention the boost to the ego of knowing that you have earned the accolades of ‘best time in the history of school’ and ‘the best ever visitor’. Shame that sort of keenness doesn’t last when students come to fill out university module evaluation forms!