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  1. The Education Gradebook

New Pasco charter school focuses on the classics, humanities

SHADY HILLS

Genesis Santiago laid the lesson out clearly for her eighth graders.

"When you translate from Latin to English, you need proper English word order," the teacher instructed, writing an example on the board. "Let's experiment."

The class broke down a couple of sentences into their parts — subject, verb, direct object and so on. Then Santiago changed the assignment.

"Do you want to try it with a Latin sentence?" she asked.

The class agreed, and began offering suggestions resulting in "puella amat agricolam." (That's, the girl loves the farmer.)

You might say that Latin is a dead language. But it's front and center at Classical Preparatory Academy, one of three Pasco County charter schools that opened in August.

Latin, logic, grammar and rhetoric loom large over the school's curriculum. Sayings from Neruda, Plato and other philosophers line the walls.

Founder Anne Corcoran, a local lawyer, mom and lawmaker's wife, wanted to create a school focused on the humanities and learning, and not just another "traditional" school. She spent three years honing the effort and has found a large and receptive audience.

More than 1,000 children applied for just over 300 seats. Close to 350 educators tried to win one of 18 teaching slots.

Parents, who drive to the former golf course site on Shady Hills Road from all over Pasco County, love the change of pace.

"The kindergartners are learning Latin here. They're learning citizenship," said Tasha Faiella, who planned to home-school her twins if not for the charter. "We've got spelling words in kindergarten."

Stacie McIntyre previously sent her two children to a small religious school near her Wesley Chapel home. She said Classical Prep's curriculum, plus the small environment, serves them well.

"My kids are happy here," McIntyre said. "They love learning."

Erin Kim had her three children in a traditional public school, but didn't find it challenging enough for her daughter. She searched for charter schools, applying to several and hoping for the best.

When she got all three kids into Classical Prep, she researched it and decided to take the leap. The staff convinced her.

"I have to tell you, we have no regrets," Kim said.

Added Faiella, "If I wasn't satisfied, I'd be out."

Children also welcomed the new opportunities.

"Learning Latin is fun," said Keira Paulicelli, 9, who attended Mary Giella Elementary last year. "It's new for us, and it's a language that's really old. It's really fun to learn, because you can easily remember which English word goes with the Latin word."

Risha Patel, who attended Oakstead Elementary for third grade, said she enjoys the academic challenge of her new school.

"I like it better here," said Risha, 9.

Steven Allen, 14, said he didn't like the idea of wearing uniforms at Classical Prep. But he was glad he switched from Tarpon Springs Middle for the eighth grade.

"It's calm here," Steven said. "They're more focused on not memorizing but actually learning. . . . I'm doing a lot better."

Most of the teachers have backgrounds in the classics and humanities. They often stop to infuse lessons with "the high things — truth, love and beauty," as fifth-grade humanities instructor Gabrielle D'Virgilio put it.

Her class had a lengthy conversation about hospitality and Greek culture, for instance, while reading the Odyssey.

"We are showing them how to think, not what to think," she said. "I talk to these kids about goodness, about truth, about beauty. . . . Everything translates so well. I see it every day."

For now, the school operates in temporary facilities. But a new building is rising fast nearby, and Corcoran, the school's CEO for $1 a year, expected it to open for the second semester in January.

Parents said they looked forward to the end of construction, so they don't have to wade through deep marshy puddles on rainy days, or navigate around work trucks. But even such distractions were minor to them.

"When you are driving this far, parents are involved. They're invested," Faiella said.

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at jsolochek@tampabay.com or (813) 909-4614. Follow @jeffsolochek.

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