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Austino's passion for teaching Latin pays off

Program is growing; group recognizing her work

March 20, 2012

Jenny Austino could so easily have missed becoming an award-winning Latin teacher at Brookfield East High School. But, thanks to a stumper of a question on a law school application, she didn't.

The question - Why do you want to study law?

"I didn't have an answer," Austino said. "Then I received a flier in my mailbox that was about teaching, so I looked into it."

The right decision

She was at Creighton University at the time, remembering how Elyce Moschella, Austino's foreign language teacher as a student at Brookfield East, told her how perfect she would be as a Latin teacher.

"She really thought I would be a good teacher at the time, but I wasn't interested," Austino said. "I'm very happy that I changed my mind."

She's now eight years into her teaching career, having spent six years at Brookfield East and other Elmbrook schools. Austino is traveling to Baton Rouge, La., to receive the Kraft Award for Excellence in Secondary School Teaching from the Classical Association of the Middle West and South.

"It's really an honor," Austino said. "I just enjoy teaching so much, so it's very meaningful."

Making Latin relevant

Austino said her goal is to make Latin not-so-old-school by doing whatever it takes to make the subject interesting.

"We might study Cicero one week and then Harry Potter the next," she said. "The course is a hybrid of language, literature and history."

She takes that approach seriously, offering opportunities for students to travel abroad as a group to such places as Greece and Italy. Over spring break she will lead a group to Turkey.

"We make all the travel arrangements, but we all pay for ourselves," Austino said. "It's a totally guided tour."

Total involvement

Austino also guides students beyond the Latin classroom. She mentors upperclassmen in welcoming freshmen each year.

"I have found myself getting more and more involved in the entire school community," Austino said. "It's great to get to know the new freshmen each year."

Knowing students for a long time is another reason why Austino enjoys teaching Latin. She said not many other teachers get the opportunity to see students throughout their high school years. She also noted that the subject has become more popular, growing in enrollment each year.

"I used to travel between the high schools and also to middle school," she said. "We have added another teacher, so now I teach primarily at East."

Gratified mentor

Seeing a former student eventually take her advice and grow to become a teaching colleague, Elyce Moschella said the experience has been gratifying.

"Jenny was teaching in Omaha after she finished her degree from Creighton," Moschella said. "We kept in touch and when we had an opening in Elmbrook, she was my first and only choice for filling the position.

Moschella said there is a significant Latin teacher shortage and that the district is fortunate to have Austino, who has a high rate of retaining freshmen Latin students through their senior year.

"Jenny is a dedicated teacher who is passionate about Latin and enthusiastic about guiding her students to share that passion," Moschella said. "The energy she puts into her classes, into the co-curricular activities she advises, into her own professional development and into travel experiences for her students have resulted in the expansion of Brookfield East's Latin classes."

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