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Telling Our Old Trail School Story

Exterior photo of Firestone Hall at dusk

By David Hassler, Director of the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University and current OTS parent

My voice at Old Trail is always heard. That’s why my poem is one hundred years old.” OTS student Felipe Moreira, class of 2027, wrote these lines and shared his voice to the OTS Centennial Community Poem project last spring, along with over 400 other students, faculty, alums and family members.

As Director of the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University and an OTS parent, I was thrilled to have this opportunity to help Old Trail commemorate its 100-year history through the memorable language and leaping thought of poetry. Working with Associate Head of School Joe Vogel and a committee of passionate teachers, I began by writing a sample model poem, entitled “Tell Our Story,” with three prompt questions to inspire students, faculty, family members and alumni to give voice to their experiences at Old Trail and of our shared values. We mailed out cards designed with the model poem, prompts, and website address to families and alumni, so that people could either write their creative lines on the card and send it back or share their voice through the interactive project website.

Drawing from these hundreds of contributions, I selected lines from only about 40 contributors to script a centennial community poem entitled “Raise Our Voices,” which will be installed this spring as a beautiful and functional “poetry bench” designed by Kent firm Each + Every and fabricated by local artist Sean Mercer of mercer-WORKS.

All the poetic and thoughtful responses we received from the OTS community were truly heartening and can be viewed on the website gallery.

A photo of the Centennial Poetry Bench.

Prior to the COVID-19 restrictions last spring, I had planned to visit the school in person many times beginning during National Poetry Month in April to lead writing workshops with students, faculty and staff. Indeed, we had planned for a fun writing activity for Grandparents/Special Person’s Day. Yet what we had planned to be simply a creative celebration of the school’s centennial, became also a testament to the resolve and resilience of the OTS school community during the COVID-19 pandemic, as we found new ways to creatively connect with and inspire one another. Thanks to the efforts and creativity of the OTS teachers, we were able to facilitate many of these writing workshops remotely and many of the teachers incorporated the community poem opportunity in their online classes.

“Together we are united even when we are apart,” wrote a second grade class. We hear in the community poem the joy of the students, the gratitude of the parents, the affection of the teachers and staff, and the wisdom of alumni as they reflect on the foundational and transformative seedbed experiences of their OTS education.

The inspiration for the bench and its design came from the unique and fertile learning environment of Old Trail School within the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and its proximity to the winding Cuyahoga River. Each + Every’s Alex Catanese and Nate Mucha designed the bench with Corten steel and white oak for its durability, aesthetic quality and functionality. It features the scripted community poem cut into the steel as it meanders, rises and falls. Known as “weathering steel,” Corten steel is often used for bridge building and sculpture. As it ages it becomes more beautiful and forms a protective coating that makes the cut letters of the poem more readable.

The arts tell our stories, who we are as a community and where we are going. Through the many diverse voices in this poem, we can see how our individual stories fit into a larger OTS story—and how our individual lives are intertwined into a larger human and environmental story. It is my hope that the poetry bench will offer us a moment of pause to reflect on our Old Trail experiences, inspire us to continue to “raise our voice” for this remarkable school and for the greater good in our communities, and create a space for future OTS students to gather and connect with one another for years to come.