It started with a book, A Long Walk to Water.
Out of the tale of two young children who were seeking some of the most basic necessities in South Sudan, a relationship was born -- worlds apart.
At this year's Ohio School Board Association annual conference, Bexley Middle School eighth-graders Max Meyer, Toby Mars and Annie Cohen, along with their teachers Beth Jax and Mindy Hall, told the story of that relationship that began two years ago.
The group presented the school's South Sudan Global Service Learning project during the conference's student achievement fair.
A part of the OSBA's annual statewide gathering, the achievement fair showcases student projects from throughout the state. Bexley Middle School presented its project Nov. 12 at the Greater Columbus Convention Center, as it was selected to be recognized as an outstanding example of student action and achievement in Ohio schools.
Both Jax and Hall said they were honored to be among the 100 schools selected from across the state to present, and were proud of the students who were able to relay their efforts so well.
The relationship between Bexley Middle School and the country of South Sudan started in 2011, and has proved to be more rewarding than anyone could have imagined. It was inspired by the book A Long Walk to Water, based on the nearly 35,000 "lost boy" refugees of Southern Sudan, and the students' study of the Sudanese refugees.
The school took on a project to help finance a new medical clinic in the area, a basic need most students take for granted.
The Bexley students worked on the project as seventh-graders last year. All seventh-graders read the book and heard from guest speakers about the plight of refugees. They put their learning into action, engaging in activities such as a Community Night and a 3K Run/Walk, to raise money to support a health clinic. They were inspired and assisted by Bol Aweng, a native of South Sudan and the clinic's founder Aweng is an Ohio State University graduate who was one of the refugee "Lost Boys of Sudan."
Because of the district's relationship with Aweng and another "lost boy," Jok Dau, seventh-graders were able to speak in person to the two about their experiences. Aweng also has worked with seventh-grade art classes, sharing both his work and his struggles.
To date, the school has raised around $10,000 for the health-clinic project.
"They really understand the importance of the entire process -- that service learning is about learning and gaining an understanding of experiences and perspectives in other parts of the world," Hall said.
In its 12th year, the school's character education program addresses the school district's priority concerning the social and emotional development of students. Bexley seventh- and eighth-graders spend the school year exploring concepts such as "Caring for Self, "Caring for Others," "Caring for the Environment" and "Caring for Global Others/Tolerance."