LYNN, Mass. — When Corrado Russo walks into his Classical High School classroom, fake swords and shields emerge from boxes and students don togas and start speaking in a 2,000-year-old language.

Russo, 31, teaches Latin at Classical. But he doesn’t just teach it. Students say he makes it fun, and he underscores the classical language’s value as a learning tool.

“He makes a dead language live,” said senior Briana Silva.

Russo’s skill in bringing Latin to life has not gone unnoticed. He will attend the Classical Association of Massachusetts conference in Sturbridge to accept the statewide Latin teacher of the year award from his peers. Classical Principal Gene Constantino and language department head Fatima Lyle said the honor is well deserved.

“With Cory, we have advanced from zero Latin classes four years ago to 10 classes and hired a second teacher,” Constantino said.

Russo graduated Emerson College with a creative writing degree, but a long-held interest in mythology prompted him to take Latin classes at Tufts University. He earned enough credits to enroll in Tufts’ master’s degree in the classics program.

“At graduation, someone said, ‘Are you looking for a job?'” he said.

Lyle said Russo brought a non-traditional approach to teaching Latin to Classical. Instead of making students recite sentences and learn grammatical structures, Russo immersed them in the language of the Roman Empire, and prodded them into bringing the classics they read to life.

“The biggest thing for me is the experience my students have. We don’t view Latin as something stuffed into their heads,” he said.

Silva is a fourth-year Latin student who said Russo finds a way to involve every student in free-wheeling Latin conversations punctuated by imaginary strolls through the Roman forum or mock sword duels.

“I like how he knows we’re all interested in different things,” said classmate Carlos Suriel.

The payoff, she said, is learning a language that underpins French, Spanish and English.

“You start making connections,” Silva said.

Russo said Latin is not just an old language that can be fun to learn if taught right.

It is also a mental workout designed to train the brain to function better.

“There is no end to the benefits,” he said.

Latin students Diana Sharifi and Ally Dunnigan said studying Latin has helped them build a solid language base for the scholastic aptitude tests. Russo said Constantino has supported the Latin program’s expansion at Classical and Constantino, in turn, said a growing number of the school’s Latin students are scoring well in Latin language competitions.

Suriel, Silva and other students spent last Thursday reading what Russo described as “a real Roman ghost story.”

“He makes it fun,” Dunnigan said.

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