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North High teacher studies Marshall Plan's effect in Austria

November 30, 2009|By JANET HEIM

HAGERSTOWN -- It took some homework on Gretchen Smith's part, but it was worth it for the North Hagerstown High School social studies teacher and department chair.

Smith, 35, was selected as one of nine high school teachers from the United States to travel to Austria from Oct. 24 to Nov. 1 to study the impact of the Marshall Plan on that country. Six of the other teachers were from Virginia, one from California and one from New Orleans, Smith said.

It was the first time for the program, which included teachers from Austria to foster relationships between educators from the two countries.

The Marshall Plan, also known as the European Recovery Program, is named for Gen. George C. Marshall, who was the U.S. Secretary of State after World War II. Through the plan, the United States provided money to help Western European countries rebuild after World War II.

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The money is in a revolving fund, which means recipients repaid money they borrowed when they were able to do so. Smith said Austria is still using its Marshall Plan money and much of the funding for the trip came from Marshall Plan funds.

"In Austria still today, Marshall is a household name. They still recognize and appreciate the impact of this event, what the money accomplished," Smith said.

Smith, of Hancock, is in her 12th year of teaching. She teaches world history to 11th- and 12th-graders, including the International Baccalaureate program.

She learned about the program through her supervisor, who attended a summer workshop at Dodona Manor, Marshall's home in Leesburg, Va., where he and his wife lived from 1941 until his death in 1959.

Smith went to the program's Web site at www.georgecmarshall.org, and decided to apply.

Smith said she feels fortunate to have had the opportunity, and said she thinks it will pay off for her students.

"When you're immersed in something like that for a long period of time, you have a different perspective," Smith said.

American teachers for the educational outreach program were chosen by the George C. Marshall International Center, while the Austrian educators were selected by the Austrian Ministry of Education.

The trip -- which started in Salzburg and ended in Vienna -- included workshops, opportunities to speak with Austrian experts on the Marshall Plan and visits to sites affected by the plan. Everything was presented in English.

The educators visited a bank, wool factory, hydroelectric power plant and steel mill, as well as the Austrian National Library Archives, which has an extensive collection of Marshall Plan photographs, Smith said.

Smith said the group learned that the Marshall Plan laid the groundwork for the current European Union.

"I think the trip promoted greater understanding of a country lesser known in Europe. The U.S. teachers said they will talk about Austria differently. It's an important part of European history," Smith said.

Smith said her lessons on the Marshall Plan, which are coming up in a few weeks, will be different as a result.

"Having the opportunity to talk to people who teach the same thing I do in another country -- these teachers' parents lived through World War II. You come back with more than a textbook understanding," Smith said.

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