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Plum students visit Italy for real-deal history lessons, chance to see 'bigger world'

| Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Plum students' trip to Italy included a visit to Capri. In front (from left) are Alexis Amato, Amy Kerchner, Lindsey Wittkopp, Shannon Greco and Emma Phillips. In back are Antonio Marasco, Alyson Weifenbaugh and Kourtney Kotvas.
Plum school students' trip to Italy included a visit to Piazza Navona in Rome. In front row, from left, are Peyton Clair, Alexis Amato, Lindsey Wittkopp, Shannon Greco, Emma Phillips and Amy Kerchner. In back, from left, Alyson Weifenbaugh, Kourtney Kotvas and Antonio Marasco.
The Pillars of Pompeii were enjoyed by Plum school students, from left, front row, Linda Fleming MItchell, Emma Phillips, Shannon Greco, Alexis Amato, Amy Kerchner, Lindsey Wittkopp and Peyton Clair. In back row, Joni Fleming, Kourtney Kotvas, Cory Fleming, Mark Fleming, Amy Pickard, Alyson Weifenbaugh and Antonio Marasco.

Antonio Marasco was more than a little interested when his English teacher began organizing a trip to Italy.

“I went to a couple meetings,” said Marasco, 18, who graduated from Plum High School this spring. “I'm Italian so I was pretty excited.”

His first step in the process of registering for the trip was talking it over with his parents, Nicoletta and Damian Marasco, both of whom are Italian.

“I told them, ‘you guys haven't had this opportunity, could I do it?'” Marasco asked.

Marasco said his parents were eager for him to take advantage of the travel opportunity and gave him their support to go on the trip.

Marasco was one of nine students — five seniors who graduated in June, three soon-to-be juniors and one student who will be a sophomore this fall — that Amy Pickard, 51, of Murrysville, accompanied on the trip from June 26 through July 7. The cost was $4,000 per student, Pickard said.

The students; Pickard; her husband, Mark Fleming, also 51 and a teacher in the Franklin Regional School District; their children, Joni Fleming, 21, and Cory Fleming, 22, toured Rome, Florence, Venice, Assisi, Spoleto, Pompeii and Sorrento.

Some of the highlights on the tour were the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and Vatican City, Pickard said.

The trip was planned through Education First tours based in Cambridge, Mass. The company provides educational travel opportunities for teachers and students.

Pickard said a tour director accompanied the group throughout the trip.

“It's so important to have an expert who can talk to the kids about the real deal, real history,” Pickard said.

Pickard said experiencing the history and culture firsthand is meaningful for students.

“It's so much better than reading it in a book,” she said.

Marasco, whose grandparents emigrated from Italy to the United States, said to see in person how they lived made a big impact on him.

“It was awesome,” Marasco said.

Marasco's favorite stops on the tour were Rome, Florence and the Island of Capri.

“We took a boat from Naples to the island,” Marasco said. “The beauty of it was amazing.”

Pickard said the trip taught the students many lessons.

“I love for them to see the bigger world out there,” she said. “It sparked conversations with students about everything.”

She said the students not only learned about the history of the places they visited but also about the culture of the country and tips for traveling.

“They learned that personal space is a cultural thing,” Pickard said. “And they discovered pay potties and that in Italy there is no ice in drinks.”

“They learned so much,” Pickard said. “They stood on streets that have been there for 3,000 years.”

The students through Education First tours can earn an elective credit from the trip by doing a project.

Pickard is planning another trip for students next summer to Costa Rica.

“We start planning one-and-a-half to two years ahead,” Pickard said.

Pickard hopes the students' desire for travel continues and they take advantages of opportunities when they are in college.

“I hope some of them will do a semester abroad,” Pickard said.

Marasco hopes to return to Italy when he is married.

Also, he said he will consider a semester abroad while he is a college student. Marasco said he plans to study accounting at Clarion University.

“Overall, it was a great experience,” Marasco said.

Karen Zapf is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-871-2367 or

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