2021 SCS Award for Excellence in Teaching Classics at the K-12 Level: Award Citations

Congratulations again to our 2021 winners! You can read the full award citations for each prize winner by clicking on the names below:

Jessie Craft

Mathew Olkovikas

Margaret Somerville


Jessie Craft, Regan High School, Pfafftown, NC

Jessie Craft knows how to reach students who are not easy to reach. His first five years of teaching were spent in a school that had been borderline Title 1 for many years, with students who were not the usual demographic to sign up for Latin. Magister Craft started reaching out to them with “Quotes of the Day,” uplifting thoughts from ancient authors that students would reflect on and apply to their daily lives. As they began to engage, he studied secondary language acquisition and started to introduce more oral instruction into his curriculum – as he puts it, teaching Latin by “speaking to humans in a human way”. Drawing on Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling (TPRS), he would imagine himself as “some Homeric bard who goes about telling his students riveting stories about mythology, Roman history, and culture.” As he told his tales, he would draw, gesticulate, intonate, shout, whisper, and slay enemies with Expo swords. He found that active Latin created equity in the class, making it an inclusive environment suitable for anyone, regardless of background. Students who would normally struggle in traditional grammar and translation-based classes were now flourishing. Where before 30% of students were failing, now most had A’s and B’s.

As Magister Craft rethought the way he presented material, he began using the Minecraft platform to teach Roman architecture and city planning by constructing digital structures and public spaces online. As he notes, he saw Minecraft “as a bridge between the cultures of ancient Rome and that of the students”. He recorded audio-visual guided tours through these spaces, describing their features in simple Latin with English subtitles. The results were “wonderful and humbling”. His students loved the videos and understood the Latin in real time. Through Minecraft, Magister Craft brought digital convenience and immersive learning into his classroom, improving retention, recollection, and comprehension.

A radical innovator and brilliant teacher, Magister Craft has shared his materials, influencing colleagues across the country. His YouTube channel Divus Magister Craft now has nearly 11,000 subscribers, and his advanced Latin-language podcast, Legio XIII, has several hundred. As one of his nominators notes, “it is not an exaggeration to say that Jessie is one of the world's leading digital pedagogues of Latin language and Roman civilization”. Magister Craft richly fulfills his goal of making the Classics and Latin relevant and accessible to students of all walks of life.

We are honored to recognize Jessie Craft for his outstanding teaching with the SCS’s 2021 Award for Excellence in Teaching of the Classics at the K-12 Level.

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Matthew Olkovikas, Pinkerton Academy in Derry, NH

Matthew Olkovikas has created a sense of community around Latin at Pinkerton, starting with the meaningful connections he forges with his students. His alumni remark on his unwavering compassion and his ability to really listen to students. One mentions the amusing nicknames Magister Olkovikas uses to create a welcoming atmosphere at the beginning of the semester: “within a week I had received [my nickname] and my anxieties were quelled. It was in this classroom that my strongest friendships were fostered.” Magister Olkovikas is always building community, whether he is leading trips to Italy every other February, or to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, or organizing bi-annual dinners at local restaurants that serve Greek and Italian foods. His students take ancient Greek after school and write for the program’s annual Stylus and Strigil magazine. The Pinkerton Academy Classical Society is among the most active clubs on campus. “This can all feel”, he notes, “like the proverbial throwing of spaghetti against the wall, trying to offer as many opportunities in a small program as an entire Spanish department might, but I feel that providing an abundance of opportunity often results in students’ taking us up in surprising ways”. These rich opportunities are the reason his classroom is never empty after school, as students flock there simply to spend time with him and chat.

Magister Olkovikas deeply believes that Latin is for everyone. He welcomes students by identifying their individual talents and interests and nudging them towards meaningful activities. As he notes, “The presence of astronomy buffs has yielded class and club events on Greco-Roman cosmology; a recent wealth of excellent choir students has resulted in an early music event. A student’s computer skills led to a grammatical game app. If there are botany fans, we’ll grow an olive tree in the room. Is Greek alluring? Fetch the Athenaze.” He believes in taking things seriously but making it fun, whether through his famous “Matisms” (e.g., describing a depiction of Zeus as “the pinnacle of Zeusitude”), or wacky review games like “Slapite Mihi” (Slap Me, the io game). As an alumnus writes, “he has the remarkable gift of being understated and unassuming and also funny and clear all simultaneously”. And his students achieve impressive results: in the past year, 47 of the program’s 120 students received cum laude or superior recognition on the National Latin Exam, National Classical Etymology Exam, the National Mythology Exam, and the National Roman Civilization Exam, with several taking bronze, silver, and gold.

We are honored to recognize Matthew Olkovikas for his outstanding teaching with the SCS’s 2021 Award for Excellence in Teaching of the Classics at the K-12 Level.

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Margaret Somerville, Friends’ Central School, Wynnewood, PA (grades 6-8)

Margaret Somerville takes a holistic approach to teaching, viewing language learning as a vehicle for students to know themselves better. “In homage to Socrates,” she explains, “I try to lead out what is already there within each student. I believe that the experience of learning Latin is about making meaning of who we are.” Helping each student feel their own worth means going beyond language structures, beyond learning to translate the Aeneid, and finding something personal. Students might create a line of African American Olympians to accompany a story in Latin, or make digital charts of “every single possible noun and verb inflection known to humanity,” or fall into hushed silence while the muse Calliope is invoked with the words Musa, mihi fabulam memora, and “Magistra” begins another installment of an epic tale, for Tempus Fabulae, a much-loved element of her classes. Students enjoy the nicknames by which they’re known (such as “Atlas” or “Penelope”) and the hands-on activities that create an engaging environment, such as “Derivative Faire,” where they receive a Latin root and are challenged to find as many related words as possible from other languages. Her students feel special and at home with her. As one alumnus writes, “She imparted in all us not just a love of Latin, but by extension a love of learning––a gift I will always be grateful for”.

Ms. Somerville is well known to Latin educators for her pioneering curriculum Prima Lingua: A Preparatory Course for the Study of Foreign Languages, a course for middle school students that provides a foundation in how all languages work, primarily the basics of grammar, syntax, and derivatives. Early in her career, she found that before she could begin teaching her students a second language, she had to give them a better grasp of how languages work. Only then were they ready to begin understanding what sets most world languages apart from English—such factors as gender, adjective-noun agreement, and word order. Prima Lingua builds on the longstanding role of Latin as a vehicle for teaching formal grammar, but instead of treating those forms of knowledge as implicit byproducts of learning to read Latin, it foregrounds them and makes them the subject of explicit study. Students really understand what it means that languages differ from each other and gain a more meaningful basis for deciding which language they want to learn. Encouraged by early results, Ms. Somerville turned her own classroom course into a workbook and teacher’s manual, complete with lesson plans, worksheets, and age appropriate activities (such as role playing animal communication for the segment on “Animal Languages”). Ms. Somerville has presented on the Prima Lingua curriculum at many conferences, ranging from ACTFL and ACL to NECC and ISTE and it is now taught across the country, and it has been used in grade levels from fourth grade through ninth grade.

We are honored to recognize Margaret Somerville for her outstanding teaching with the SCS’s 2021 Award for Excellence in Teaching of the Classics at the K-12 Level.

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