WESTERVILLE, Ohio — Rebecca Sieberhagen knows what it feels like to have a language barrier.

“I grew up in a third world country and I pretty much moved around every four years,” she said. 

What You Need To Know

  • Central Ohio high school students graduated from the Global Scholars Program and presented their capstone "Take Action" project to community members 

  • The Global Scholars Program is run by the Columbus Council on World Affairs

  • The Global Scholars Program is integrated in 21 central Ohio school districts and has 1200 student participants 

“I got lucky that English was my first language, but I got raised speaking a second language. So I understand like how hard it is to have to learn a new language, especially with all the dialect and everything changing,” she said.

It is why she spent the past year working on a project designed to help pre-K refugees and immigrants with their English literacy.

“I saw research that it how big of a part of plays in child development to read your kids every night,and when you're coming to a new country and they have to get immersed and learn English, they really aren't getting that extra help at home that everyone else is getting,” said Sieberhagen.

The Westerville North senior is one of more than 100 students who graduated from the global scholars program on Tuesday. It is a program run by the Columbus Council on World Affairs that encourages students to create hands-on, interactive projects that help immigrants become fluent with American culture. 

“What we hear over and over from the students is this gave me a chance to be engaged in something bigger, to show me that I can make a difference,” said Patrick Terrien, the president and CEO of the Columbus Council on World Affairs.

Sieberhagen was recognized for her work. She, along with Marysville student, Jonathan Thomas, have been awarded scholarships for the projects they completed this year.

“From a very, very early on in my Spanish studies, I was being introduced to these Spanish speakers and seeing how they were very isolated from the rest of our school community," Thomas said. "And so I really wanted to try to find a way to bridge that gap and help remind our Spanish speakers that we really care about them and they're so important to us."

For his “Take Action” project, Thomas chartered a chapter of Amnesty International at his school and because of it, he says Marysville is now the only central Ohio high school that conducts the morning announcements in both English and Spanish. Projects like these that make organizers proud.

“There's nothing more important than the future, especially of our young people," said Terrien. "And the young people are the ones that are going to make and create the future."