Bexley Middle School was among 450 host sites across central Ohio where more than 5,000 participated in community conversations Aug. 30. Known as "The Big Table," the Columbus Foundation organized the event to bring people together for sharing ideas about how to improve their communities.

Bexley Middle School was among 450 host sites across central Ohio where more than 5,000 participated in community conversations Aug. 30. Known as "The Big Table," the Columbus Foundation organized the event to bring people together for sharing ideas about how to improve their communities.

The middle school's Make a Difference Club hosted a Big Table event in the form of a lunchtime picnic on the school's front lawn. About 150 people participated, including 100 students as well as teachers, district administrators, school board members, a Bexley Public Library representative and Bexley Mayor Ben Kessler.

"We had some really good representation of all aspects of the community," said Alison Nakasako, a middle school French teacher who serves as one of the Make a Difference Club coordinators.

The Big Table event also helped raise awareness of the Make a Difference Club, which was formed last school year to help students participate in community service projects.

"It was a good way to start off the school year," said Lindsay Shankle, a Spanish teacher and another coordinator of the Make a Difference Club. "It was a good relationship-building exercise."

At the Big Table event, participants worked in groups and discussed topics based on prompts such as "working together for everyone," "connect together, stay together" and "small community, big hearts."

"We talked about a range of things -- the community and how we could improve it," said Hannah Spangle, an eighth-grader who is a club member. "The students in my group brought up the idea of not only taking action in our school, but also reaching out to other schools."

The Make a Difference Club had about 20 active members last school year, and the coordinators plan to invite all of the students who participated in the Big Table event to get involved in club activities this year, Nakasako said.

"It gave the students their voice as to what they want to see changed in the community and what trends are going on in the community," she said. "We have a strong community, but what I saw at the Big Table is it can still be better."

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