‘How I Spent My Summer’: Amy Leonard

Amy Lead

We continue our series “How I Spent My Summer” looking at how APS teachers used their Atlanta Education Fund’s Fund for Teachers grant. Next up: Grady High School Latin teacher Amy Leonard, who did “Roman Holiday” one better with a heckuva learning experience in Italy. Ms. Leonard describes her story after the jump …

I spent two weeks in Italy on a Vergilian Society study tour entitled “Life, Death, and Entertainment in Ancient Italy.” The tour was led by a classical archaeology professor from Miami University of Ohio and had 10 participants. In selecting this tour, my intentions were to brush up on my knowledge of REAL Roman sites and to delve deeper into the daily life practices of ancient Romans in order to bring more vivid lessons to my students.

IMG00540-20090612-1007I learned so much from my fellowship due to the combination of vivid site visits, fascinating lectures, and additional research that I was able to do each evening in the library at our villa. Daily immersion in the ancient sites triggered so many questions that I’ve had about daily life in the Roman world, questions that I wouldn’t have thought to ask if I hadn’t been standing right there in the ruins of a temple or the atrium of a Pompeian house.

Collaboration with professor and colleagues, supplemented by my own research allowed me to fill in many of the small gaps I had in my knowledge of Roman daily life and culture. For example, I have taught for years about the Pompeian and Roman amphitheaters, but on this trip I was able to visit three other commensurate amphitheaters around southern Italy, and each one enhanced my knowledge of how entertainments were planned and organized, how the seating was arranged, how entrances and exits were monitored, and even what snack foods were consumed during the games!

As for learning new skills and instructional strategies, I underwent a surprising transformation during this fellowship. I was vividly reminded that the Roman world was so much more than the world of Julius Caesar and the Rome of 1st century BC/AD. Roman culture was constantly evolving due to the influences of trade, expansion, and the influx of Christianity. Trapped in my textbook, I have been teaching about one area and one time period (Rome/Pompeii, ca. 80 A.D.), while I must keep in mind that the Roman empire developed for the next four centuries and was, by the end, a very different and dynamic world from that of 1st century Italy.

Teaching as I have been has communicated to my students an unbalanced view of Roman life. Hereafter, I will provide better explanations to my students for the “evolution” of Roman culture, likening it to the many examples of cultural change in the modern world.

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This experience has provided a strong influence on my classroom and community. I am so excited each day to share pictures and anecdotes from my site visits. Hardly a lesson goes by where I don’t project an image from my trip, something that ties in directly with the story we are reading. Transporting my students from the stale textbook to the reality of the Roman world with a click of my mouse has had a dramatic effect on their interest and my energy.

In addition to numerous posters which I obtained from museums and sites in Italy, I gathered a few handfuls of volcanic material from the 79 AD eruption of Mount Vesuvius, which I display and pass around when we discuss the eruption. I am excited to be collaborating with my language arts colleagues who are teaching Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar this fall. I’ve arranged to give an introductory lecture on the Rome of Caesar with a slide show and question/answer session.

This fellowship inspired me to continue my own learning. As a result, I’ve been reading voraciously since I returned home, trying to improve both my Latin fluency and my knowledge of the finer details of Roman culture. I have posted my 1,600-plus photos in an online gallery complete with detailed captions and anecdotes which I plan to make available for student research projects. (Visit the photo gallery here.)

Furthermore, I was recognized by the director of the study tour as an outstanding participant and teacher, and will be returning to Italy next summer as co-director of a similar study tour, guiding AP Latin teachers in discussions of literature and pedagogy while visiting the ancient sites.

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