The New Albany-Plain Local School District's Hand in Hand for Haiti project has been awarded the 2013 International Education Project of the Year by the Columbus Council on World Affairs.
"There was a selection committee for it with a very intense rubric for the award," said Stephanie Calondis Geiger, the council's director of K-12 education and media outreach. "To qualify, the district had to submit an application and had to adhere to global education definitions, using global content and knowledge about the world, including geography, language and culture."
The nonprofit Columbus Council on World Affairs recognizes "outstanding contributions to global education and understanding in the community," according to the organization's website.
New Albany students in all grades who worked to raise $25,000 for an orphanage in Haiti after studying the work of Paul Farmer. Farmer is co-founder of Partners in Health, which provides free health care to impoverished people on four continents.
The money will be used to establish a tilapia-fishing operation -- a sustainable business along the lines of what Farmer advocates -- at the Zanmi Beni Children's Home.
Farmer's visit, which was sponsored by the New Albany Community Foundation, sparked the initiative, in which parents, teachers and administrators found ways for students in every building to be involved.
"It was fascinating to me to see how the whole Haiti project came together," said school board President Laura Kohler.
Kindergartners and first graders decorated water backpacks purchased from Greif, a packaging company based in central Ohio.
The packs were sent to Haitians who have to travel miles to find safe drinking water. Middle school students wore the packs to school and educated their peers about the unsafe drinking water conditions in Haiti.
New Albany students sold bracelets with the message "Hand in Hand with Haiti" and T-shirts designed by New Albany High School student Keyana Aghamirzadeh.
Parents got involved by reading a book about Farmer and attending a community discussion.
Many high school students also read the book and all students at the high school listened to Farmer speak during his Nov. 29 visit to the district.
"We were so glad to be able to give so many kids so many opportunities to learn in different ways," said parent volunteer Pat Huddle, who helped organize the Hand in Hand for Haiti initiative.
Parent volunteers said students will continue the initiative this year and next school year.
In addition, 25 students have signed up to complete a service project in the Dominican Republic in June to learn more about the plight of third-world countries and another group of students is committed to keep the high school Partners in Health club active in the 2013-14 school year.
"It's definitely the first time we've been recognized for something like this and it's a big honor," Kohler said. "It made me very proud to be part of the school district."
Parent organizer Kris Moss said the Columbus Council on World Affairs filmed a video about the project that will be used to help other school districts organize similar projects.
"Our hope is that other communities will be able to accomplish the same thing in their school districts," Moss said.
Geiger said there five other projects were in the running for the award:
* Northridge High School of Johnstown and its Ohio Model United Nations team, the only Model United Nations program in Licking County.
* Centennial High School of Columbus and Star Travel, a student-run program that features interviews with students of varying international backgrounds. The school has 31 countries represented in its student population.
* Columbus International High School's international seminars, which help prepare students for life after high school by exposing them to "timely issues of consequence both locally and globally."
* St. James the Less School of Columbus and the Under Construction El Salvador program, a service learning project in which students studied a missionary living at the St. Vincent de Paul orphanage in El Salvador via the videoconferencing program Skype and built a model of an El Salvador home in the school gym.
* Emerson Elementary Magnet School in Westerville's children's safe drinking-water project, in which 6- to 8-year-olds "researched water treatment and availability in the U.S. while their counterparts in third grade examined access to clean water in India, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Ethiopia, Honduras and Haiti."