Old Trail School is celebrating a significant milestone—its centennial.
One hundred years that encompass a remarkable history of foresight; idealism; trials and tribulations; doubts; incredible success; several campuses; and, most importantly, the lives of thousands of children impacted, influenced and nurtured by its care and passion that have shaped and impacted our community and beyond. It is our history.
A New Learning Environment
Old Trail owes its existence to its founders, two incredible men and a cast of supporters and pioneering parents who believed in the grand experiment of creating a new learning environment. This environment would courageously diverge from the rote memorization and standardized practices that were common in public school systems at the time and instead emphasize the importance of each individual child to think, create, reason and understand themselves in a larger, more significant, context.
To start a school in Akron that would educate in a way contrary to the norm was both unusual and a risky financial endeavor.
The founders, Dr. William C. Geer and Dr. William A. Parks, were both visionary and realists. As Old Trail’s first president, Dr. Geer was known as the “guiding light” of the school and it was his inspiration that formed the foundation for all that would follow a century later. This milestone feat would not have been possible, however, had it not been for the indefatigable spirit of Dr. Parks, who —as the school’s second president and board member of eight years—refused to compromise Old Trail’s high academic standards and commitment to the whole child when the financial viability of the school was very much in doubt early on. Dr. Parks proved himself a tireless champion, at times even walking door-to-door to raise money and convincing wealthier individuals in the region to support “just one more year” of Old Trail.
Like today, Old Trail in the 1920s attracted the best and brightest educators. Many came from different parts of the country to teach at a school that was quickly establishing a reputation with its unique and innovative curriculum and philosophy of instruction. These teachers, too, sacrificed, and agreed to reduced pay or to go without pay on occasion of financial stress to ensure the school’s future.
After the exciting and doubtful early years, enrollment, which was often a struggle, began increasing, and Old Trail found itself on more stable footing—finally able to dream big. For many, the move to the Fairlawn Heights campus in 1926 was a symbol of the school’s future—permanence, stability, innovation and child-focused. This was also the campus that educated countless girls and young women who graduated from Old Trail when it was an all-girls high school. These women were trailblazers in countless ways and went off to Smith, Radcliffe, Wellesley, Harvard, Ohio State and other colleges across the country. Their love for Old Trail remains, and they often discuss and laugh about their favorite teachers, friends and experiences that shaped them.
Old Trail’s move to Bath proved to be just as consequential. Although the transition preceded the creation of what would become the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, the school’s place in the Valley immediately impacted its students and the OTS experience. The natural world surrounding campus facilitated a special experience where the ideas of the founders were emphasized, and students thrived. In more than 40 years at its current campus, countless capital improvements have enhanced what it means to be at Old Trail. The Harrington Center, the Sisler McFawn Hall, the Harrington-McLaughlin Athletic Center, the Merryweather Outdoor Classroom, the nature-based playscapes, and the improvements on the farm are several that speak to the legacy of our founders, their vision and the unflagging support of the Old Trail community.
Celebrating a century is also a moment of reflection, a moment of pause. Undaunted leaders, devoted parents, gifted and dedicated faculty, alumnae and alumni, grandparents and friends of the school have contributed to ensuring the school’s success, and many more will continue to do so into the future. As we celebrate Old Trail’s remarkable history, our gratitude is owed to the individuals who believed in and advocated for the school when it needed champions and supporters who had the boldness to try something new. These individuals ensured a remarkable and dynamic school would thrive as a child-centered institution in our community.
An old prospectus from the school states: "Old Trail's basic teaching concept of stimulating the child to learn and grow from his or her own experience in doing by providing leadership and encouragement to the pupil or student with the minimum of compulsion, regulation and regimentation has proven its great worth throughout the years as a most effective method in the development of the individual person."
One century later, these same experiential learning ideals remain at the heart of the OTS experience. Happy birthday, Old Trail. Here’s to another 100 years of unparalleled and unforgettable student experiences that take children farther.