There’s a lot of historical significance in the 521 square miles that make up Loudoun. So much so, that it’s tricky to get all of the county’s 76,000 students to its battlefields, one-room schoolhouses and museums.
But one area foundation has gotten creative, launching a program to bring the field trip to the classroom.
Over the past two months, the George C. Marshall International Center’s team of a dozen-plus docents have brought their knowledge of the World War II general, former U.S. secretary of state and Leesburg resident to hundreds of seventh-graders.
The volunteer docents can typically be found leading guided tours of Marshall’s former home, now just called The Marshall House, on Edwards Ferry Road in Leesburg. But Cliff Gold, the center’s director of Educational Outreach, and a few docents came up with an idea to offer a miniature version of that guided tour to students at Loudoun schools.
Gold worked with history teachers at three middle schools—Stone Hill and Farmwell Station in Ashburn and River Bend in Cascades—to time the docents’ visits around when the students were learning about the Cold War and World War II.
During a recent visit to Stone Hill Middle School, docents Brian Evans and Chang Liu told the students that Marshall was one of those rare leaders who cared more about the betterment of the country than furthering his own political career. “He is one of those individuals who did that excellently,” Evans said.
Marshall was the architect of the European Recovery Program—better known as the Marshall Plan—that was designed to rebuild Europe after World War II. The program earned Marshall the Nobel Peace Prize, the only soldier to ever win the award.
“We volunteer out of respect and admiration for Gen. Marshall,” said Liu, who also serves as director of library services of the Loudoun County Public Library. “He’s a modern American hero.”
Erin Rice, a Stone Hill history teacher, said working through lessons on World War II, particularly the Holocaust, can be heavy for students. Learning about Marshall’s legacy offers a welcome reprieve.
“His work is inspiring. It’s about problem solving—and solving a problem through diplomacy rather than through fighting,” she said.
She pointed out to her students that following World War I, some U.S. leaders set out to punish the country’s enemies. But Marshall’s plan after World War II was to partner with those countries that opposed the U.S. during the war and help them rebuild. “Now, they’re some of our best allies, especially Germany,” Rice said. “Marshall played a huge role in that.”
She said the Marshall Center docent’s strategy to offer students a taste of their typical tour meant she didn’t have to come up with $200 to rent a bus for an afternoon. Her class is also scheduled to get a virtual tour of the International Spy Museum next week.
“When they can experience some of these things while still in the classroom,” she said, “it’s wonderful.”