Mr. Brian Clark walked into his classroom in early May holding a plush, 30-inch stuffed elephant. When he set it on a table in front of his Latin III Honors class, the students answered with a perplexed look. Then, after a lengthy pause, they began to understand the non-verbal news.
They erupted in cheer after Mr. Clark informed his Catholic Memorial School class that the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) had approved their adoption of an elephant. Yes, an elephant.
Their cheers echoed down the hallways. And few cheered louder than freshman Thomas Crean.
“I think it was us realizing, ‘Wow, we did it,’” said Thomas, a Brookline resident.
“Anyone can say something. But the people who do something are the ones making a difference in the world.”
Named Chris Trunk, the elephant resides in Central Africa. But, its symbolic adoption inside a CM classroom began in the third quarter of this past academic year when Mr. Clark’s class read The Life of Hannibal by the Roman biographer Cornelius Nepos.
In the text, Nepos details the life of Hannibal, the Carthaginian general who fought Rome during the Punic Wars. During an invasion of Italy, Hannibal marched an army that consisted of 40 elephants over the Alps mountain range.
The visual captured the imagination of Mr. Clark’s class, according to Thomas.
“It was seen as an impossible task at the time,” he said.
“Nobody had done anything like that by the time of the Punic Wars.”
The ancient battle story inspired Thomas and his classmates to study the different tactics of war elephants and how to distinguish species of elephants in military history. According to Mr. Clark, the students found a way to deepen their understanding of Hannibal’s military strategy by comparing it to battle scenes in the show Game of Thrones. They also studied how film director George Lucas modeled animated war ships on ancient war elephants.
Then, Thomas posed a simple question: “Why can’t we have our own elephant?”
Instead of shooting the idea down as “absurd,” Mr. Clark challenged Thomas to research the process of adopting a wild animal through the WWF. Thomas conducted research online and discovered that African elephants cost only $250 to adopt.
“From there, I mentioned it to the rest of the class,” said Thomas.
“Every kid donated $10 and we began to realize that we could actually do this.”
After donations from Mr. Clark and former CM principal Mr. Thomas Beatty, the class sent in their deposit and awaited word from the WWF. The WWF corresponded with a certificate of adoption, a booklet with details of their elephant, and, of course, the 30-inch stuffed animal. The booklet informed them that their donated funds assisted in protecting their elephant from poachers in Central Africa.
Thomas said he felt fulfilled knowing that he helped serve a cause greater than himself.
“We took something as little as an idea and turned it into something as serious as helping an elephant avoid poachers,” he said.
Thomas credited Mr. Clark for giving him the autonomy to tackle the project head-on. He believes that Mr. Clark’s active, hands-on learning approach inspired him to think outside-the-box.
“I think what makes Mr. Clark’s class so interesting is the way Mr. Clark is able to bring his life experiences into the class,” said Thomas.
“He’s really well-travelled and he’s been to a lot of places where you notice the use of Latin in the Ancient World.”
Prior to his arrival at CM, Mr. Clark taught several courses in Greek and Latin while earning his M.A. in Digital Humanities at Tufts University. He studied abroad in Buenos Aires before he graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the College of the Holy Cross.
From his experiences travelling to Greece and Rome, he learned how to compound his already advanced understanding of the classics and humanities with an open-minded, visual pedagogy. Using photos and videos of his travels, Mr. Clark brings to life a part of the world once unseen to some of his students.
Some of his students, however, share the same worldy experience. Of course, this provides an opportunity for relational learning between teacher and student.
“I had the privilege of going to Greece last summer and Mr. Clark had been to Greece a few years ago,” said Thomas.
“I saw photos of the Greek islands and Athens on Mr. Clark’s smartboard and I thought to myself, ‘Wow, I was there.’”
Moments like these, no matter how big or small, bring to life Latin, the classics, and history all at once in a Catholic Memorial School classroom.