The poster on the wall in Gary LeGates' classroom was meant as a joke: "Take Latin now, avoid the rush later."
Not that Latin isn't worthy of study, but the language appeals to fewer students than do Spanish and French.
But there is, indeed, a sort of rush to take Latin now. Enrollment in Latin is growing at the three Carroll County high schools that are offering it. North Carroll and South Carroll high schools don't offer Latin because not enough students sign up for it.
Francis Scott Key High School offered only Latin I this year but is offering first- and second-year Latin next year. Liberty High School will have six sections of Latin classes next year, compared with three this year.
And Westminster High School has a bumper crop of 72 students signed up for first-year Latin next year, compared with 23 this year in that level.
Who says Latin is a dead language?
Well, it is dead in the sense that since the Renaissance, no new words have been added to it and no one speaks it as a primary language, said Mr. LeGates, who teaches Latin at Westminster High School.
But students who take Latin don't care that it's no longer spoken. They speak it in class, reading aloud the poems of Catullus, Martial and Horace, and the "Aeneid" by Virgil.
The classes are hard work, students say, but yield insights into the English language, politics, literature and history.
"I tell them Latin is a little like spinach," Mr. LeGates said. "Maybe it's a little tough, but it's good for you."
Although first-year Latin classes typically have more than 20 students, the third- and fourth-year classes can be as small as four, and rarely more than 10, school officials say.
Students who do go on for three or four years are so committed, they make special arrangements to stay in the program. Luv Javia, a junior, overcame a scheduling conflict by taking Latin III during the Latin II class, listening to a tape and completing work independently.
Mr. LeGates made a sacrifice this year also. When many of the four seniors in Latin IV and the six juniors in Latin III had trouble scheduling Latin and other classes, he sacrificed his planning period so they could continue at a convenient time.
also has sacrificed planning time to teach ancient Greek. There is no formal Greek class at any of the high schools in the county.
"When you love the classics, you can't wait for a class," Mr. LeGates said. "If they want to learn it, I can take the time to teach it."
Students in the class gave different reasons for taking three to four years of Latin.
Seniors Karen DeBus and Jeff Seamon cited Mr. LeGates as their inspiration.
Mr. LeGates, who also teaches French, first took Latin at Maryland School for the Blind and has loved the language ever since, he said.
One of junior Becky Eurice's teachers in middle school suggested she take Latin if she really wanted to be a lawyer. Lawyers use many Latin phrases, such as "habeas corpus."
When Larry Norris, a senior, tells people he is taking Latin, often they ask if he wants to be a doctor. He doesn't. He took Latin because he heard it would help him do well on his Scholastic Aptitude Test.
Many students took Latin for that reason, although none could think of an example where Latin helped on the SAT.
Senior Ann Luers took four years of Latin.
"Once you take one, you might as well take two, and once you take two, you might as well take three, and . . . The first and second year are grammar, and you don't want to take all the grammar and then not do anything with it," she said.
Mr. LeGates does a little more than grammar the first two years. Students read short, clever verses by Martial and commonly used Latin phrases.
The second year read some of Julius Caesar's writings. The third- and fourth-year students read prose by Cicero and love poems by writers such as Catullus.
Mr. LeGates has students discuss the techniques Cicero used and compare them with techniques used by great modern orators.
"Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero," the 10 Latin III and IV students say in unison, trying to get the correct meter and rhythm with Mr. LeGates.
The oft-quoted poem by Horace translates as "Seize the day, trusting as little as possible in the future."
Students also found the "Aeneid" to be relevant to modern problems.
"It seems like it was written yesterday," said Larry Norris. The "Aeneid" was published just after Virgil's death in 19 B.C., Mr. LeGates said.
"I even had a great dream about it," said Karen DeBus.