The scene that unfolded in a teacher's office at the Maret School in upper Northwest one recent afternoon may have been the first of its kind. A group of teenagers in T-shirts and shorts sat around a table, chewing candy, popping gum and arguing about how many stories in their high school newspaper should be printed in Latin.
None, said Alex de Winter, a junior.
"I think basically Latin is a waste of time," he said. "Nobody reads Latin."
Not so, said the others. After all, some Maret students take Latin. They read it -- in class.
Well, said sophomore Harry DaSilva, what about just a little Latin?
"It has to be on something understandable," DaSilva said. "Not on morals or computers."
A buzz ensued around the table. Then, a consensus: Next year the newspaper will carry only one Latin story in one edition all year. A Latin editor, part of this year's staff, will not be necessary. Instead, the staff will take questions to the school's Latin adviser, just to make sure all the verbs are in the right place.
It was another routine editorial decision by the staff of The International, Maret's foreign language newspaper.
The year-old paper, unique in the Washington area, contains stories in French, Spanish and English as well as that other less-practical language. The stories are written by Maret students and by correspondents in France, Germany and Switzerland -- and a new one at Moscow State University. The International trades articles with those students via Federal Express, regular mail and their fathers' fax machines, which means their own stories end up in some foreign school newspapers.
Besides distribution to the Maret community, copies of The International go to the Washington International School, the French International School and the German School, all in the Washington area.
After a year of publication, four issues in all, The International staff dubs its venture a success. But all fledgling newspapers have growing pains, and The International is no exception.
Attracting readers among Maret's 550-member student body has proved hardest of all, staff members say. The Maret School already has a newspaper and a literary magazine.
Those publications, like most published by high schools in this country, are entirely in English and deal entirely with school issues, people and events.
International staff members concede that's a tough mold to break.
"Here at Maret there's a negative feeling," said sophomore Greg Pazianos, who will be a co-editor in chief next year. "Some of the things you read in here are just too heavy for some people."
Open a typical school newspaper and you're likely to see a picture of the class president or the football star. Open The International and you'll find faces of Lithuanian demonstrators on one page and Romanian protesters on another. And most of the stories are essays, not news stories, about international affairs.
Consider the headlines in the May 1990 issue, the final one of the first year: "Lithuania and the Break-up of the Soviet Union;" "Greenhouse Effect's Strangle Hold on World;" and "Students from the Moscow State University on Lithuania." And those are just the stories in English.
Next year, staffers promise, there will be more stories about school life, and writers will be instructed to adopt a lighter tone. "I've had a few people complain to me," said Abraham Lymn, a junior.
"A lot of people like to see their names in the newspaper when it's a high school newspaper," said co-editor Derek Chen, a graduating senior. "We don't have that."
Nor do they have staff photographers, said co-editor Frederick Cobey.
So how do they get pictures?
"It's a simple matter of calling the press sections of these various embassies saying, 'Hello, I need your help,' in a rather humble tone, so they'll be willing to work with you," Cobey said. "And they don't charge anything."
The newspaper was the brainchild of Cobey, who founded it with Chen and classmate Ryan Miller. Cobey, who speaks fluent French, suggested a French-language paper. But that wasn't enough to win the support of the school's foreign language teachers.
"When we went to the head of the department, he thought it was a good idea, but he wanted to do Latin and Spanish too," Cobey said.
So The International was born.
The editors recruited some students with a strong interest in foreign languages, and others who knew how to lay out pages on the school's Macintosh computers. Then they set to work contacting students abroad and gleaned a roster of foreign correspondents by the third issue.
Now they have a steady stream of foreign copy, but not all of it makes the paper. "We reject a lot of articles," Chen said. "Some of them aren't written very coherently."
On the other hand, sometimes it's hard to get a staff member to get copy in at all, Chen said.
Which has taught them something about newspaper management. Chen and his fellow editors are advising next year's crew to be patient with reporters.
"There's a difference," Miller said, "between 'Get it done,' and 'How are you doing on that story?' "