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KNOXVILLE — Tennessee is third in the nation in the popularity of Latin as a high school subject, the head of the University of Tennessee classics department said Wednesday.

Dr. David Tandy said Tennessee ranks behind only Virginia and Texas in states with the highest per-capita enrollment in high school Latin classes over the last two decades.

“Virginia and Texas are making special efforts to increase the quality of middle and high schools, and they’re seeing even bigger increases in Latin-taking,” Tandy said. “Tennessee may not have the same level of financial commitment to K-12 education, but it is common knowledge among classics educators that the state is holding its own in Latin enrollments.”

The study of Latin is considered to improve a child’s overall education, he said.

“Parents and students are aware of a correlation between taking Latin and succeeding in high school, in college and thereafter,” Tandy said. “There has been a consistent clamor for Latin whenever it is not available in high schools, and our challenge is to keep a supply of Latin teachers for those job openings in Tennessee.”

Tandy said the last 10 years have been a period of success for Latin education at UT and across the state.

“We’ve noticed about the same number of students taking the introductory and intermediate courses over this time period,” Tandy said, “but our upper-division classes are perhaps twice the size that they used to be 10 years ago.

“These are not gigantic differences when you have 10 or 12 students instead of six. But it clearly shows that students want to go into the field, which is good news for the survival of Latin in Tennessee and other states, and we’re pleased to see the pattern.”

Tandy said Latin is the root of modern languages such as Italian, Spanish and French. Although the general public no longer speaks the language, Latin terminology is widely used in academic fields such as medicine, biology and the law.