I had a hard time finding the Brooklyn Latin School. As I approached the block where I knew it was supposed to be, after having double and triple-checked the address of the school, all I could see was a grand stone building, obviously labeled “Public School 250.” I asked the crossing guard where TBLS was, and she pointed to the Public School. I walked in, and realized that TBLS was fully contained within two floors of this building that they share with a public elementary school. It was the first of many times that my expectations were surpassed during my time as a “Princetern” with the headmaster of the Brooklyn Latin School, Jason Griffiths ’97.
The Brooklyn Latin School, founded in 2006, is modeled after the Boston Latin School, the first public high school in America. TBLS has lifted the centuries-old traditions of the Boston Latin School and transplanted them to Bushwick Avenue. The students wear uniforms, learn four years of Latin, call their teachers “magistra” and “magister,” and perform declamations in class and several times a year in front of the entire school.
My experiences for the three days of the Princeternship were incredibly rewarding. I had the opportunity to shadow Mr. Griffiths in his meetings with various members of the faculty, including check-ins with the grade-level leaders, college counselor, department heads, and office staff, as well as members of the community that are working with the school to build mentorship programs, exchange facilities, etc. During lunch I sat in on two interviews that Mr. Griffiths conducted for an open position in the History department. Observing him meet with his faculty gave me first hand insight on interactions between teachers and administration, and gave me a full appreciation of the eye for detail that Mr. Griffiths is able to maintain even as the school, and his responsibilities outside the classroom, grow. Observing the interviews he conducted was incredibly informative, especially because as an aspiring teacher I will eventually find myself on the other side of the table being interviewed.
When I was not joining Mr. Griffiths for meetings, I was able to sit in on classes to observe. TBLS follows the International Baccalaureate curriculum and conducts most classes using the Socratic method, so many classes that I observed consisted almost entirely of student-based discussion. I was able to sit in on classes as varied as freshman level Art History, sophomore year Health, and Higher Level Latin, where I stopped taking notes about the class, and started paying attention as if I was a student too. The faculty was welcoming and warm, and the students consistently impressed me with how well-spoken and confident they were. Sitting in on classes also posed a sharp contrast to the administrative work that Mr. Griffiths is primarily involved with. As TBLS grows, his responsibilities will mainly focus on keeping the school well-funded and well-run. One thing this Princeternship helped me confirm was that I would rather primarily spend time in the classroom with students.
My last day at TBLS, as luck would have it, was the day of their penultimate Public Declamation, an opportunity for students (selected by audition) to declaim a poem or prose passage in front of the entire school. Public Declamation is something to look forward to at TBLS, no doubt. The excitement in the auditorium was palpable, and though students are told to withhold applause until all the declaimers have performed, after each declamation the audience could barely contain their applause. One student declaimed Catullus 101 in both English and Latin, while another performed the monologue “Mad as Hell” from the 1976 movie Network. It was an electrifying performance. At one point, she demanded from the audience: “I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, ‘I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!” For a moment, I thought someone would spring up from their seat. “Mad as Hell” was the last declamation of the afternoon, and the declaimer’s last line prompted absolute uproar. Public declamation gave me chills, and I was sad to leave TBLS shortly afterward.
There is a lot of discussion today about education reform, education policy, and the state of education in America, especially in urban areas. My experience with Mr. Griffiths gave me an opportunity to watch the work of education reform—the real, on-the-ground work of it. It helped me understand the importance of quality teaching and maintaining a cohesive school philosophy. The Brooklyn Latin School offers, as Mr. Griffiths described it to me, “an unapologetically liberal arts education.” It isn’t the right school for everyone, but for the students that have graduated in the last two years, and have gone to college, it has worked well. What especially struck me was that Mr. Griffiths did not start his career as a teacher with grandiose visions that he would single handedly save the system of American education, but instead founded a school in line with his education values, and is, one graduating class at a time, improving the niche that he has made. My Princeternship gave me valuable exposure to a wonderful school, and certainly inspired me to pursue a path that will bring me back to high school, not as a student or observer, but as a teacher.