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Extraordinary Growth in Extraordinary Times

Exterior photo of Firestone Hall at dusk

COVID-19 demanded new teaching models and technology, as well as resiliency and adaptability.

This past year has been a collection of moments unlike any other in Old Trail School’s 100-year history. These moments would challenge our school and, ultimately, strengthen our relationships and our commitment to providing the best learning experience for students.

A Moment of Realization

Head of School Sarah Johnston and Associate Head of School Joe Vogel spent two days in conversation with National Association of Independent School colleagues in February 2020 and left the association’s annual meeting with one thing on their minds: The virus was going to dramatically impact the nation, Ohio and the Old Trail School community.

Old Trail immediately started to reenvision nearly every aspect of delivering its program by planning and resourcing a fully remote learning model. Joe Vogel remembers, “We had a very short time to make very serious decisions. It was a feeling of high pressure, but also confidence—we could make this work. What came to be was an incredible display of nimbleness and creativity.”

Vogel then began serving as an academic dean, working closely with the division directors to preserve academic integrity and quality. In anticipation of a statewide closure, on March 12, 2020, Old Trail announced the school would distribute technology, train faculty and make the transition to distance learning over the next four days. From March 17 until the end of that school year, learning took place in synchronous and interactive Zoom classrooms and SeeSaw workspaces—and underwent constant refinement. 

The school’s Distance Learning Plan outlined age-and division-appropriate goals, guidelines, schedules and technology.

Every day, faculty reflected on the art of teaching, divisional directors reinvented and applied proven approaches, and community members found space and time to support one another. The summer was spent planning for the simultaneous in-person and remote learning models the start of the 2020–21 academic year would require. The school established cohorts—small groups of six to eight students—to minimize virus spread, reimagined class schedules and spaces, designated teachers to provide synchronous learning for students at home, implemented daily health checks, and enhanced cleaning and ventilation.

Says Vogel, “We built on what we learned in the spring and tapped educational resources to ensure every student would have a meaningful learning experience.”

Old Trail’s response was amazing and quick. There was constant communication and full synchronous learning from the beginning. And, even better, there were no gaps in my daughter’s education or experience. We couldn’t have asked for more. 

Will Holland, Current Parent

Appreciation for Our People and Resources

“As far as technology, we were already prepared. We did not fumble finding the tools to support our teachers. We researched, tested and solved. It really was the human factor that was the most outstanding. We all worked together,” notes Director of Technology Sharon Winfrey.

Others describe Sharon as the always present, thoughtful and confident centerpiece of Old Trail’s distance learning implementation. She and her team worked with division directors to identify age-appropriate technology, then trained faculty and offered countless hours of one-on-one technical support to remote faculty and students. Old Trail’s physical and technological resources were essential, but it was individuals like Sharon who made 2020, and continue to make 2021, a success. Leadership team members balanced the professional and personal needs of their staff, and teachers recreated their classrooms in their homes and then, again, in Old Trail’s outdoor spaces.

A Chance to See More Opportunities

“As an independent school, we can be agile and creative in ways public schools cannot, and will strive to fulfill our mission to your children in this anomalous time,” Sarah Johnston told the community in an email.

Despite the immense challenges of the spring pivot and the fall, Old Trail was determined it would not break the continuity of care and education that OTS families value. This intentional and consistent conviction helped focus conversations and guide decisions throughout 2020. All agreed that Old Trail would work harder and go further for each student than other schools.

Teachers created kitchen experiments, hosted nationally recognized guest speakers and produced The Wizard of Oz remotely, all so students could learn through the experiences so crucial to embed meaningful knowledge and critical thinking. The school maintained teacher mentorships, offered social and emotional support, and established distance learning deans to serve as students’ advocates to make sure each child felt known, heard and valued. Teachers used our 62-acre campus and outdoor learning spaces more than ever to gain the health and safety advantages of being outside without sacrificing critical learning opportunities.

Faculty and staff visited every graduating student’s home and hand-delivered prizes to Community Friday winners to remind all of the foundation of care that permeates our entire community. Put simply, we know these are the most important years for children’s development and future, and years that cannot be revisited. Our teachers kept students fully engaged and not only mastered our typical academic content, but exceeded it. Our entire community gained skills that will prove invaluable.