An ambitious new Southwest Philadelphia charter school uses an ancient language as a formula for learning.
Coats line the north wall of the room, and crumpled paper lies beneath student desks. Books, papers, tests and worksheets overwhelm her desk. Posters on the wall pay homage to Donovan McNabb and various Phillies players.
Everything is straight out of central casting, save the captions beneath the images. "VENI, VIDI, VICI," reads one, written in garish colors beneath the McNabb picture. Another picture of a clock with wings says, "TEMPUS FUGIT."
Flounders, 29, a Havertown native, is smartly dressed in khaki skirt, leather boots and a periwinkle cardigan as she leads her Latin class of some 20 students through tales of Greek mythology.
Her love affair with Latin began in high school at Merion Mercy Academy, a private Catholic school on the Main Line. "I had the best Latin teacher in the world there," she says.
She continued her study of Latin at Holy Cross (having scored a full scholarship for the study of classics), and received her teaching certification from Harvard. After a stint student-teaching at the other Boston Latin school--Boston Latin Academy--she returned to Philadelphia to became Boys' Latin's one-woman Latin department.
Flounders says Latin "teaches logic and discipline and analytical skills," results in higher test scores and improves skills in everything from grammar to vocabulary to historical knowledge of ancient Rome and its culture.
Her students have studied both the language and Greek and Roman myths, and now she's trying to push them through The Aeneid, Virgil's epic tale, which tells of the sack of Troy, the flight of Aeneas and his eventual migration to Italy.
Flounders reads a paragraph. The sentences students work to translate provide the foundation for what they'll study over the next three years. They mispronounce most of every sentence.
The mistakes continue, but when Flounders says, "C'mon guys, you know femina," the room answers as one: "woman!"
Boston Latin began admitting girls almost 40 years ago. Here at Philadelphia Boys' Latin, the students don't see girls for the entire school day, which runs from 8 until 5.
David Hardy, the boss at Philadelphia Boys' Latin, is lean, dark, and walks bent like a paper clip off center. Hardy, who grew up in North Philly, graduated from Yankton College in South Dakota.
He runs Boys' Latin like his own fiefdom. As CEO, he is businessman, cheerleader, principal, publicist and a general Mr. Fix-It. He believes in making students work, pitting them against each other and dragging them to success by the nose.
Success didn't come easily for Hardy. One of his first ventures--a flower business--tanked. He worked at a school that taught at-risk inner-city students at the Community Academy Charter School in North Philadelphia for 19 years. During his tenure the school grew from 65 students to more than 1,200. Hardy was the whiz behind a $17 million bond to finance the school, which was a Pennsylvania charter school record.
Hardy, who lives and breathes the charter school system, left Community Academy after deciding to start his own school. He sits in the cramped main office, hands clasped over crossed legs, pate gleaming, his tie knotted just so as he explains why he thought Latin was a winning idea.
"I told them it was gonna be a Latin school," Hardy says of how he defined the school in the 2005 application. "I said it would be somewhat like Boston Latin, and people thought no way that application was getting through."
Hardy knew the local public schools--most famously West Philadelphia High School--were notorious for being violent and disruptive. He decided to locate Boys' Latin in Southwest Philadelphia, then home to just four of the city's 62 charter schools, figuring the city would favor a school that provides an alternative.
But the week before the application vote, the Women's Law Project, upset over the proposed charter's all-male policy, sent in a formal opposition to the school district, giving Boys' Latin little time to battle back. "The next week we were rejected," Hardy says.
Hardy believes American schools, by their very nature, favor female students. Elementary school teaching positions are poorly paid, and because "so much of what goes on is nurturing or mom-like kind of activities, a lot of people don't feel comfortable with a male as a kindergarten through second-grade teacher."
Female students see their own image in their teachers every day, but male students are more likely to cause trouble. "As they go up the ladder they're more competitive," he says, "more tactile, more energetic, you know, so it's just different for them."