An anti-bullying project by fifth-graders at Upper Arlington's Greensview Elementary School won an Outstanding Project Award at the Youth for Justice Summit, a program of the Ohio Center for Law-Related Education.
The May 7 event was held at the Riffe Center in Columbus.
"Addressing bullying was important to our group, because we've all seen bullying and it's kind of emotional to all of us," student Jessica Ye said.
"We knew bullies could have an impact on people's lives, but we didn't realize how much," said Jesse Price. "People don't even want to wake up in the mornings. Words hurt."
Ye and Price were members of the "Be a Better Bystander" student team, with Liam Chen, Elliott Fosler-Lusier, Sydney Lape, Rebekah Murray and Ava Towle.
Jill Bixel, a gifted-education teacher leader, said the team worked with Upper Arlington High School senior Arin Carver because she is doing her capstone project on bullying.
"The team's research revealed that in bullying situations, it is the bystanders who have the power to make a change," Bixel said.
"The team ended up writing a digital, choose-your-own adventure story based on their research. It presents a realistic bullying scenario and provides three buttons students can click to see the bystanders reacting in different ways."
Bixel said the story may be viewed at writer.inklestudioes.com/stories/r38g.
Students plan to present their story on a Smartboard to help in bystander training for a third-grade class, she said.
"The hope is that this pilot will help inspire other teachers to use the story with their classes," she said.
A second project by a different group of Greensview students worked on proposing a change to the Ohio Revised Code that would increase the penalty for abusing a companion animal from a misdemeanor to a felony.
The students who worked on "There's No Excuse for Animal Abuse" were Ben Crespo, Eli D'Herete, Ayah Elshiekh, Luke Eversole, June Postalakis and Connie Song.
Bixel said the Greensview students spent the entire second semester in their Integrated Studies class working on Youth for Justice projects.
"The work went through four phases -- brainstorming, research, action plan and presentation," she said. "It was incredibly challenging for fifth-graders because it combined long-term planning, research and group-work skills. But the students responded to the challenge."
She said the work was all led by students, who generated topics, research and projects.
"As part of this process, they invited in the legislative aides of state Senator Jim Hughes," she said of the students who developed the animal abuse project. "They learned how citizens can actually have an impact on the law."
Murray said she learned, "I can surprise myself ... I was surprised that I could stand up for someone."
"We learned that you just can't pass a law," Eversole said. "We now understand that laws about animal abuse are connected to laws about human abuse. It's hard to say animal abuse should be a felony when human abuse is only a misdemeanor."
He said without a change to the current law, "people could keep abusing animals without any jail time."
Bixel said a "transformative" moment for the students came when they had to decide what to do with their research.
"They found numerous reliable resources, but it was coaching them to actually utilize their findings in an action project that made this work real," she said.
The Greensview students were among 150 Ohio students who attended the summit to present their projects. Bixel said she toured many of the student project displays at the summit.
"I was particularly impressed by the substance of our students' projects, the depth of their research and the thoughtful application of this research in practical solutions," she said. "The kids really thought on their feet in response to judges' questions. They were able to do this because of their thorough presentation.
"People were continually stunned that our teams were only in fifth grade," she said.