What started as a challenge for Westerville students to propose a state symbol two years ago is now legislation headed to the Ohio Senate that would designate a barn as the official historical architectural structure of Ohio.

After receiving a proposal from students in the Westerville City Schools Gifted Education Program, state Rep. Anne Gonzales (R-Westerville) sponsored House Bill 12, which is designed to emphasize the importance of preserving these historic structures that highlight Ohio's heritage and agricultural legacy.

Debbie Pellington, a gifted education facilitator for Genoa and Heritage middle schools, said she and Caley Nestor-Baker, who teaches advanced seventh-grade social studies classes at Genoa, challenged their students to do research regarding Ohio and what would be an appropriate state symbol.

"Two years ago, we were going to go on a visit to the Statehouse," she said. "Working through Rep. Gonzales, we challenged the kids. They worked in groups, researching our own state and what would be an appropriate state symbol."

A group of students latched onto the idea of the barn and Gonzales wanted to move forward with it.

"It started as a class project, and the girls were vested in it," Pellington said.

The group that was the impetus behind the legislation includes Anna Borders, Sarah Gellner, Danielle Igram, Rachel Kauffman and Adriane Thompson. They are all freshmen at Westerville Central High School, except Thompson, who attends the Wellington School.

Borders credits Gonzales for getting the proposal this far.

"She was really committed to us and we appreciate it," Borders said.

"It is great to see these students get involved in the legislative process and learn how our government works," Gonzales said.

"Their goal with this bill is to preserve these historic structures and pay homage to Ohio's rich agricultural heritage, and I'm proud to help do my part in the Ohio House," she said.

The bill passed 94-0 on March 22 and will go to the state Senate for further consideration.

The students who testified on the bill discussed how the state marked its bicentennial in 2003, with one barn in each of Ohio's 88 counties being chosen and painted with a mural by an artist commissioned by the Ohio Bicentennial Commission.

"I had heard of the bicentennial project with the barns," Borders said. "I did the research on that. We found other information we didn't know about. There are many different types of barns -- round, Mail Pouch and 16-sided barns.

"With the 16-sided, (an Ohio barn) is one of only three left in America," Borders said. "It was created by George Washington so horses could be enclosed in bad weather.

"There are groups committed to barns like the Friends of Ohio Barns. There are other people who care about barns as well," she said.

When the paper was finished, Borders said, she thought they had found good evidence.

"Old schoolhouses had been in barns," she said. "I think a lot of people don't know that. I thought it's a good way to preserve Ohio's history.

I was passionate about making sure the barns would stay preserved for Ohio's history," she said.

Gellner said she's excited about the progress so far.

"All the representatives seemed enthusiastic about it," she said. "The more I researched about the barns, it was very interesting the different types of barns and what they meant to our history. It was inspiring to see how many people thought it was a good idea."

Gellner said updates on the progress of the bill can be followed on Twitter @ohiobarnbill.

Pellington said the real-world application has been amazing, as has as the students' perseverance to stick with their project from two years ago.

"They dug deep," she said. "It's something they believe in and wanted to see through.

"To see them speak at the Statehouse with their poise was pretty amazing. They handled themselves beautifully. Their passion comes through," Pellington said.

mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekMarla