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Columbus Crossing Borders Project Viewed by Some 3,000 in the Westerville Community

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Approximately 3,000 people recently were able to view the Columbus Crossing Borders Project (CCBP), thanks to a new collaborative venture to bring the exhibit to the community. Westerville Crossing Borders (WCB) is comprised of representatives from four community organizations that support Westerville City Schools (WCS): Westerville Education Foundation (WEF), Westerville Education Challenge, Westerville Parent Council, and Westerville Partners for Education (WPE). As a result of WCB’s efforts, nearly 1,200 attendees at Westerville’s Annual Community Culture Celebration on Sunday, September 30, 2018, and more than 1,600 WCS students viewed the art exhibit.  Field trips to view the exhibit at The Point at Otterbein University took place on October 1-4. “This was the largest field trip our district has had the opportunity to participate in and, thanks to Westerville Crossing Borders, there was no cost to the district,” said Greg Viebranz, Executive Director of Communications and Technology for WCS.   “The Columbus Crossing Borders Project is about caring -- caring about humanity, caring about justice and caring about the truth.” said CCBP Director Laurie VanBalen. “Being invited to bring the project to the Westerville community for a celebration of diversity, unity and caring is as good as it gets.” This caring is what motivated 34 artists and a film crew to create a 34-piece art exhibit and documentary film that has been traveling the country for more than 18 months to inspire understanding, compassion and support for the millions in our world who have been forced to flee their homes as refugees. “Supporting our new-American families and students, as well as creating awareness about the diversity in our district, was something that we all felt was important,” said WEF Executive Director Colleen Moidu. The District has nearly 1,400 English Learners who speak 55 languages and represent 63 different countries.  ” Moidu also serves as coordinator of WCB and as a Board Member for Community Refugee and Immigration Services, which was a partner in the creation of the Columbus Crossing Borders Project..  Moidu worked with teachers to coordinate the student trips to the exhibit, and said many students shared how personal the experience was for them. “After his class viewed the documentary, a student shared that he had been in a refugee camp in Nepal with Jhuma, one of the men featured in the film,” Moidu explained. “Two other Westerville students were shown in the documentary as their parents were interviewed about their experience as refugees. These are our kids. We want them to know that we are so happy they are here.”   Tara Norling, a 5th grade teacher at Hanby Elementary, said this project was an opportunity for her students to share, make connections and learn from one another. “Two of my students shared with the class about their own experience as Bhutanese refugees in Nepal,” Norling said. “Another shared about her grandparents fleeing Russia long before she was born.” Julie McClure, one of the coordinators of WCB and president of WPE, added that dozens of students told her that they were drawn to one portrait in particular. “The portrait was that of Sowdo, a woman who was a refugee from Somalia who is now a self proclaimed Buckeye,” McClure explained. “A sixth-grade student from Heritage Middle School said she liked the portrait because Sowdo looks like her.” Somali is the language most commonly spoken by English Learners in WCS, followed by Spanish and Nepali. Charan Bajgai, a Nepali paraprofessional at Westerville North High School, said the exhibit was a great experience for children and the community “Like any of us, many can feel isolated and unsure of how they fit in,” Bajgai said. “Anything that helps to connect us with one another is a benefit to all of us. Sometimes a simple smile and ‘hello’ or ‘namaste’ can make a big difference." Many of the teachers and students who attended the art exhibit and viewed the documentary are tying the experience into projects within their curriculum and continue the conversation.   ““We have a tremendous opportunity to bridge a gap right here in our high school,” said Jennifer Kiko, art teacher at Westerville Central High School who is coordinating a project that connects 8 students willing to share their own experiences as refugees with a 8 painting students. Juls Rathje, art teacher at Emerson and Hanby Elementaries, is coordinating a cross-school collaboration that involves 100 canvases traveling to five different elementary schools, allowing students to work together to create a single piece of art. At Westerville South High School, art students are being asked to paint a piece that tells some else’s story.   “The impact of this project is far from over,” said Stephanie Henderson, WPE Vice President and one of the lead organizers of WCB. “This was a first step; our community and our schools are already coming together to show us what’s next.” Westerville Chief of Police Joseph Morbitzer, who began Community Culture Day six years ago with local realtor Rick Rano and the Westerville Sunrise Rotary, said this particular event represents how the community should be defined. “We must work to sustain this effort throughout the year,” Morbitzer said. “With such an effort, along with the fantastic partnerships that make Community Culture Day and Westerville Crossing Borders possible, more people will see that Westerville is a community that embraces acceptance and inclusion.” Funding for the student trips and related projects was provided by generous community sponsors for Westerville Crossing Borders including Education First Credit Union, Blair IT, Mount Carmel St. Ann’s, the Portale Agency - Allstate.  Nationwide Children’s Hospital was the Art Exhibit Sponsor and the Westerville Public Library sponsored the documentary which was shown at the Community Culture Day Celebration and in classroom across the district. For more information about Westerville Crossing Borders contact Colleen Moidu at For information about the Columbus Crossing Borders Project visit their website here:

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