On March 15, three PHS Latin teams represented the school at the Certamen competition at Princeton University. PHS students were present in the novice, intermediate, and advanced divisions, which are comprised of Latin I, Latin II and a combination of Latin III and IV respectively. All three teams were successful, with the lower two teams earning first place trophies in each of their divisions, and the advanced team taking second place.
PHS has been involved in this Competitive Certamen for over ten years, and it requires preparation beyond simple language skills. “A lot of it is [covered in the school curriculum] because they gear the competition towards a level,” said Latin Teacher and Team Advisor Kathleen Lewis. “The grammar is more predictable by level, but history, mythology culture—that’s more random across the levels.”
Strategically, the four-member teams often split the subject areas among themselves, with each person focusing on a different topic to master. “Each person gets a specialization,” said Emma Glasser ’18, member of the Latin II team. “[Molly Zuckerman ’18] is the mythology person, I am the language and grammar person as well as [Victor Liao ’18], [and James VanderKam ’18] is the history [person].” The competition works like a question-and-answer game show, with teams raising their hands to buzz in and answer questions.
The regional competition involved three rounds, each consisting of three teams, after which the average points for each team was calculated to determine the winners. “The first question is called the … toss up,” Glasser said. “You raise your hand [and] anybody can answer from any team, but your team can only answer once … and you’re not allowed help.” This initial question is followed by bonus questions, during which team collaboration is allowed.
A strong team dynamic is essential for triumph, as in most group activities. “We … work well as a team,” said Elian Rubin ’19 and member of the Latin I team. “We all have different knowledge and we’re very different people … so we bring in different skills.”
However, the competition wasn’t a clear win from the start. “The last competition was very close,” said Liao, member of the Latin II team. “The first round it was really [uncertain because] we didn’t score the highest amount of points that round, but the second and third round we just … dominated our opponents so I think that made up for the gap and we eventually ended up winning.”
The team is in the midst of preparing for the state tournament, which will be April 23 at Ridge High School. “They prepare on their own a lot,” Lewis said. “It’s a testament to what kind of students they are.” They currently meet Fridays after school or at Latin club during break, starting two months before the first competition.
The Friday afternoon sessions mainly include practice rounds for the teams to prepare. “The first practice we went to, we got nothing correct,” Rubin said. “Later we started to get more and more right, and then at the regionals we just kind of got everything correct.” The team members spend about two and a half hours preparing weekly, studying on their own as well as keeping up with Latin work from school.
The competition serves as an enriching experience for Latin students to supplement their standard curriculum with new knowledge, but is also an enjoyable extracurricular for students to meet with others and study a subject they take pleasure in. “Primarily they should have fun, but also realize that what they’re studying can go farther than a classroom,” Lewis said. “The group camaraderie … [meeting] students from other schools, and just [getting] out there and [sharing] their knowledge, which they’re happy to do.”