Per Aspera Ad Astra: Through Hardships to the Stars
“Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement...get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted.” This quote by the great Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel has inspired Ms. Alvarez this school year. She has tried to truly see her students and has been deeply amazed and awed by their cheerful resilience—even in the face of all their challenges this year.
“From the beginning of the pandemic, I have felt so strongly that staying connected is actually the most important thing for our community, honestly even more important than academic achievement,” said Ms. Alvarez. For this reason, she crafted her remote lesson plans in such a way as to give her students as much opportunity to talk with one another as possible. She believes that while it’s fine for students to stay connected with their teachers, it’s absolutely vital that they have ample chances to be with one another.
Predictability is another facet that Ms. Alvarez identified as being very valuable for her students during remote learning. Her class’s assignments have focused on a mix of steady day-to-day work with Latin texts and projects. She likes to assign projects that challenge students to find or create ways to take the words or concepts from the ancient language and render them in ways that are asymmetrical to the linear text.
Last semester, students chose either digital or tangible media to communicate their own takes on a story about a boat race that they read in Latin. Students produced radio broadcasts to 3D printing plans for historically accurate boats, to working model boats, to one that resembled a Latin steampunk painting of the boat race. Ms. Alvarez explained, “One student made a kind of radio/podcast broadcast as if two young Youtubers were narrating the event, with full teenage slang....it was hysterical. Another student narrated the story as a Shakespearean monologue. They were both hilarious and very vivid, and they showed how subtly the students had comprehended the original text.” However, what struck her the most was that in the midst of all this chaos, fear, and loss, her students produced work that was creative, funny, fun, and brilliant. “I was blown away by both the spirit and the intelligence of their work.”
Another recent project involved students using mapping and GPS apps to map out their theories of how a character in their text might have managed his travels through the Mediterranean world in the first century CE. Ms. Alvarez remarked, “Those were really fun for me to see, because everyone took a slightly different approach, so their work was super thought-provoking.”
Lastly, her class just finished a project in which her students used simple Latin sentences to articulate their wishes for 2021. These are just a few:
Nolo videre multos contentones vehementes in futuro (I do not want to see so much fighting in the future)
Volo magis theatrum (I want more theater)
Volo videre amicos meos in persona (I want to see my friends in person)
Volo vīsitare meam familiam apud Peru (I want to visit my family in Peru)
Volo artem meam cultivare (I want to improve my art)
Volō ludum in persona (I want in person school)
Velim lepum (I would like a rabbit)
Nolō indumentō oris pergere (I do not want to continue wearing a mask)
“The students’ wishes all seemed to have a poignant balance between universal wishes and very personal ones,” said Ms. Alvarez. “That work was really wonderful to see.” No matter whether her class is remote or in-person, Ms. Alvarez continues to be surprised and inspired by her students’ innovative creations.