SPRING HILL — It's not every day that Greek goddess Athena visits a Hernando County classroom. But she — or at least a reasonable facsimile of her — was recently seen at Gulf Coast Middle School.
The school's career resources teacher, Stephen Hoda, is a big fan of mythology, and he wanted to share that interest with students, so he established a mythology club, which they call Mythos.
"I am hoping what I'm able to give them is the spark of academic curiosity," Hoda said.
Hoda's undergraduate degrees are in religious studies and classical civilizations. He brings a bit of that to the club.
"They are learning the Greek alphabet and some Latin," he said. "I have found that it is incredibly useful to know etymology."
The day Athena arrived, played by local actor Jennifer Harris Palmer, she and her good friend, Hoda, were playing out the story of Athena's and Poseidon's conflict over who would be honored with the name of Zeus' new city. Athena won.
After the story, Hoda introduced Dede Rizzo, an owner of the Olive Grove, a Brooksville organic olive orchard. She presented a small live olive tree to the club, which they put into the ground. Rizzo also gave a small tree to each club member to take home and plant.
Seventh-grader Grace King, 12, was one of the students helping with the planting. She joined the club, she said, because she had read a book called The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan, a young readers novel from the Percy Jackson mythology series.
"I thought it was very interesting. I thought it would be interesting to learn about it and about more gods," Grace said.
Sixth-grader Evan Tarrio, 12, also read the book and others by Riordan, and he sees value in the club's focus.
"It's important," he said, "because everything in the world is traced back to mythology."
Evan said club members listen to stories and do crafts. He also is a fan of Hoda's enthusiasm for mythology.
"He embraces it," Evan said.
Hoda said he has organized the stories he tells chronologically as he helps students peer into the ancient Greek world.
"They're getting ancient Greek culture, art, history and language," he said. "These kids are eating it up."
He may have meant that figuratively, but he said they do plan to construct gingerbread Parthenons during the holidays.
One of the students in the club no longer attends Gulf Coast, a charter school. Joe Nasotti, 15, is a Springstead High School sophomore who previously attended Gulf Coast and volunteered there as a high school freshman. When he heard about the Mythos Club, he was happy to volunteer again while he builds volunteer hours.
Joe was interested in mythology when he started taking Latin in high school, then became even more interested.
"I'm very fascinated how it once was a culture, and it was their life to them, and it translates to current time," he said. "It's still alive today in a different form."
So, as the little olive tree grows, so will students' knowledge of ancient Greece.
"I hope they each take a little piece of Athena with them," Hoda said, "(the) goddess of wisdom."