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Middle school wins travel grant

Some local students should start brushing up on their French after their middle school received a grant to encourage global education.

Current students and graduates from Smith Middle School will travel to France and Belgium this spring after the school received its third grant from the European Union.

From March 19 to April 2, eighth and ninth grade students will explore major historical sites in Europe that they have been studying.

The 31 students will stay with pen pals in Liege, Belgium, for a week and attend a Belgian school, said the school’s French teacher Robin McMahon.

“(McMahon) is really the person that is making all of this happen, and we’ve been delighted to see the partnership she’s developed with the schools in Belgium and France,” said Neil Pedersen, superintendent for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.

“Smith is a school that focuses on international studies, so it is appropriate that they receive the grant.”

The “Getting to Know Europe” grant gives Smith Middle School about 77,000 euros — about $100,000 — from the European Union. The majority of the grant recipients are universities, including Cornell and Rutgers universities.

The students will visit Normandy, Paris, and multiple cities in Belgium. Stops are set to include a mine museum, a Jewish memorial and European parliament buildings.

Students will also tour an American exhibit in Belgium with their pen pals and hosts, who visited the students here last spring, McMahon said.

“I’m mostly excited about the academic component and what the kids will research before the trip,” said McMahon, who is the primary grant writer and travel coordinator.

“It will really bring history alive for them.”

The selection process for students involved evaluating grades, an essay and a French oral interview.

Georgia McCoy, a freshman at East Chapel Hill High School, said she’s both excited and nervous for the upcoming visit. She attended Smith last year and has taken French for three years.

“You learn a lot about the language and the people and the different types of foods there,” McCoy said.

“I’m really excited about just learning how to embrace these cultural differences.”

McCoy said she communicates with her pen pal at least once a week, mostly through Facebook, and will stay with her friend’s family in Belgium.

“The kids are really nervous,” McMahon said. “In the end, they find they’re really proud of themselves.”

Six teachers, Smith Principal Phil Holmes and a journalist from Chapel Hill Magazine will also travel with the students during the trip.

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