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Cold War Lessons

South County teacher attends Cold War seminar in England.

One of Patti Winch's early memories of the Cold War is sitting in her 11th grade classroom on an air base in Plattsburgh, N.Y, listening to her teacher predict a Russian attack on them due to their location. The much-feared attack never came, but Winch's memory was representative of the fear and distrust rampant during the Cold War.

Even now, Winch said, misunderstandings regarding the Cold War still exist.

As the chair of middle school social studies department at South County Secondary, Winch took it upon herself to expand her knowledge of the Cold War by attending a seminar on the subject in England. On July 24, she joined 29 other educators — 10 from the former Soviet Union — at the seminar, which was hosted by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History at St. Catharine's College in Cambridge University.

"When you know that the teacher has been there, [the teacher] has more validity," said Winch.

Thanks to a friendship developed at the seminar with fellow teacher Lyudmila Zaytseva of Moscow, Winch hopes to involve her students in an online exchange with their Russian counterparts.

"Lyuda is an English language teacher in Russia and she teaches near Russia's version of NASA, so Internet and video [access] will not be a problem for her school," said Winch. Winch envisions starting an Internet discussion board for the two groups of students on which to communicate, then later moving to video conferencing. "Lyuda wants a physical exchange, but that's not possible, at least for several years," said Winch.

WINCH MET Zaytseva as well as Mindy Ayers from Iola, Kans. and Natalia Pereyaslova from Penza, Russia during their group project, which focused on the Cuban Missile Crisis.

"We based our project on two documents dealing with the [Cuban Missile] crisis, in Russian with an English translation," said Winch. They also found similar, American documents in order to incorporate both perspectives. "We came up with a lesson that surrounds the documents."

The teachers then developed questions and presented the entire lesson to the group. This allowed the seminar participants to delve into many topics in a short amount of time and have something to bring back to their classrooms.

The point of the lessons they developed was to allow the students to view the documents through the lens of historians, said Winch about the project.

During the seminar, she also heard Soviet veterans deliver oral histories. "I'm inspired to do that in my classroom," said Winch.

Through discussions with her Russian colleagues, Winch discovered that some of her perceptions regarding the Russians weren't entirely correct. "I thought they led terrible lives, but they grew up and they were happy. Their daily lives are like ours," said Winch, adding that they don't harbor resentment toward America.

Another lecture at the seminar addressed American and Russian responses to the Cold War, such as the red scare and Stalin's reign of terror. "Americans were more affronted by the events, while Russians just shrugged their shoulders and said 'that was Stalin," said Winch.

PART OF Winch's motivation for attending the conference was to prepare for South County's partnership with the Cold War Museum, which is slated to be built in Lorton. The museum is chaired by F. Gary Powers Jr., son of U.S. pilot Francis Gary Powers who was shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960.

"I founded [the museum] in 1996 to honor Cold War veterans and its history," said Powers. Land that was formerly the Lorton Nike Missile Site was allocated to Powers by the Fairfax County Park Authority and he expects the first occupancy in the fall of next year.

The museum will open in phases. When it's completed, it will cover international as well as local aspects of the Cold War during the period of 1945 to 1991, according to Powers. Included in the 120,000 square foot museum are Nike missile bunkers, which guests will be able to tour.

Sharing resources and information with students in Fairfax County was the primary goal behind the partnership, said Dale Rumberger, principal of South County Secondary. Rumberger also sits on the board for the museum and helped foster the first partnership signed between the museum and Fairfax County.

"[The partnership] will be a great connection between social studies departments, for both high school and middle school," said Rumberger. Sharing the museum's resources, having access to speakers and artifacts will connect learning for the students, he added.

Powers wants to involve the students in all aspects of the museum, including internships within the museum.

"Seeing artifacts invigorates [students] to learn, validates the events [being studied]," Winch said.

Winch is looking forward to working with a diverse network of teachers to bounce ideas off of and compare lesson plans with. "My secret dream is to have the Russians [from the seminar] come to the opening of the Cold War Museum," said Winch.