Four education organizations that support the Westerville City Schools are partnering on a project called Westerville Crossing Borders.

The goal is to create awareness, understanding, appreciation and connection around the diversity in the schools and the community, according to Colleen Moidu, executive director of the Westerville Education Foundation.

The foundation is one of the core groups for the project, along with Westerville Partners for Education, Westerville Parent Council and Westerville Education Challenge.

"Supporting our new-American families and students and creating awareness about the diversity in our district was something that we all felt was important, based on feedback from teachers and district staff," Moidu said. "I had seen the Columbus Crossing Borders Project and was very inspired by it. I showed it to the others and they all agreed this was something we all wanted to work together to bring to Westerville."

Project focus

Bringing the Columbus Crossing Borders Project to Westerville will be the focus of the Westerville Crossing Borders effort this year.

Columbus Crossing Borders includes a 50-minute documentary and the works of 34 artists responding to stories shared by refugees in the community.

Westerville Crossing Borders is bringing the documentary and art exhibit to be featured at Westerville's sixth annual Community Culture Day from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 30, at The Point at Otterbein University, 60 Collegeview Road.

Tracy Davidson, a steering committee member for Westerville Education Challenge, said the idea for the local crossing borders project evolved when the leaders of the four groups met for lunch last winter.

"All four of these organizations are led by women who devote their time and talents enriching the lives of our Westerville students, staff and community," she said. "Colleen shared Columbus Crossing Borders Project with us and we were all intrigued by the idea of bringing the project to Westerville."

Davidson, who is also vice president of the Westerville Board of Education, said the district is the third most diverse in central Ohio and the 11th most diverse in the state.

She said close to 1,500 of the district's 15,000 students speak English as a second language.

"There are 51 native languages spoken by our Westerville students and 57 different countries represented," Davidson said.

After looking at the data, she said, the Westerville Crossing Borders name seemed perfect for the project.

"People from all of these different organizations are working together, crossing borders to create something bigger than any one person or organization could have done," Moidu said.

Central voices

Westerville Crossing Borders was inspired, in large part, by a video from English Language Learners at Westerville Central High School in 2017, Moidu said.

The students formed a group called Central Voices and, as an initial project, produced a documentary sharing their experiences as immigrants and refugees.

Mohammed Al Ibraheem, who was president of the after-school ESL Central Voice club, said the video was meant to show others that they're no different from their peers.

The mission of the group is to promote understanding and friendship among people from diverse cultural backgrounds and to be a bridge to the wider school community through activities and events.

The video is online at https://tinyurl.com/y8mzpsoe

"It's eye-opening and highly compelling," said John Kellogg, Westerville schools superintendent. "These are our students opening up and sharing very personal stories about their experiences. It shows how much work we, as a community, still have to do."

He said Westerville Crossing Borders is taking on some of that work, and he's very encouraged to see the community jumping on board.

"We couldn't be more excited about this," said Joe Morbitzer, Westerville police chief and coordinator of Community Culture Day. "Our city and, in particular, our schools have a wealth of diversity.

"The Columbus Crossing Borders Project shares personal stories and images that inspire us to step outside of our comfort zones and connect with one another."

In addition to the Sept. 30 event, the art exhibit will remain at The Point for several days to allow school district staff and students to view it and engage in discussions and projects relating to its themes.

Diversity celebrations

Other events that weekend celebrating diversity include "Hands Across Westerville" Friday, Sept. 28, during the Uptown Westerville 4th Friday and a Somali Youth Conference Saturday, Sept. 29, sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security and the Westerville Division of Police.

More than 20 organizations across Westerville are collaborating on this project, including Westerville police, Westerville City Council, local nonprofits, as well as other religious and professional organizations.

"Watching this project grow and gain momentum with excitement and community support, is incredible," said Liz Washburn, president of Westerville Parent Council. "It's truly heartwarming."

Moidu said the four education groups realized that this effort could and should be something to continue past this one event.

"What is next remains to be seen, but we already have some exciting ideas from the group," she said.

For more information, email Moidu at ExecutiveDirector@WestervilleEducationFoundation.com.

mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekMarla