Last May, Carol Bell's ninth-grade English students at Old Mill Senior High School wrote letters and made bookmarks with stamps on them for 75 potential Swedish pen pals. For the past two months, the teacher has been making American flag pins, using red, white and blue beads.
In two weeks, she will pack up her gifts and English books and head to Stockholm, Sweden, to teach reading and vocabulary, as part of a three-week international exchange program.
Mrs. Bell is the first teacher from Maryland to participate in Hands Across the Water, run by the Education Information & Resource Center (EIRC) of Sewell, N.J., for parents and teachers.
"We hope Mrs. Bell is a forerunner for other teachers from Maryland," says Micki Jinsberg, EIRC spokeswoman. "The key to getting children to realize that life is larger than just their town is by putting their teachers in another cultural environment so they can think globally."
Mrs. Bell will be among 24 teachers from across the country going to Sweden through EIRC. Others will go to countries such as Russia, New Zealand, the Netherlands and Japan to live and work with teachers.
"It's going to be an incredible experience to go to another country and witness firsthand, their system of education," says Mrs. Bell, 52. "I will get to bring back things that will benefit my students from experiences that I will never get from just teaching in a classroom every day."
Mrs. Bell doesn't speak Swedish, but she says she is not worried because students there begin studying English in fourth grade.
She will stay with Birgitta Person, who teaches ninth-grade English in Varnamo, a town of about 19,000 outside Stockholm.
L Mrs. Person is to come to Maryland for three weeks in April.
Mrs. Bell said she plans to use pictures of the Chesapeake Bay, crabs, a 1994 Old Mill yearbook, a Maryland flag and brochures from the Naval Academy to teach Swedish students about life in Maryland. She also made a 10-minute slide show of Old Mill students and teachers and places around Millersville.
"It will be challenging to bring my environment to the Swedish students and teach them," Ms. Bell says. "It will give both them and myself a whole new perspective on teaching and learning and a new view of different lifestyles."
Mrs. Bell says she wants to see what techniques Swedish teachers use to keep their students productive and interested in learning and how Swedish young people, and their parents, deal with balancing school and part-time jobs.
"Here, students face pressures to balance school studies and still work part-time jobs," Mrs. Bell says. "Yet, jobs end up coming before school. I am interested in seeing how much responsibility Swedish students take for their education in a country where it is considered a privilege to attend school."
The county school board contributed about $450 toward her trip and the Old Mill Parent Teacher Association, the Student Government and state Sen. Michael J. Wagner contributed $100.Mrs. Bell paid the remaining $1,250.
She is to return to school Sept. 2. But she says that if she enjoys her experience in Sweden, she may apply to go to New Zealand or Australia in a few years.
"I started the newspaper at Old Mill 20 years ago, and I've been here ever since," Mrs. Bell says. "It's time to move on and do something different with my life in my last nine years of teaching.