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The Importance of Character Education—Old Trail Magazine Spring 2024

The Importance of Character Education—Old Trail Magazine Spring 2024

Old Trail Magazine's Spring 2024 issue is out now! Read the cover story, "From Core Values to Life Skills: The Importance of Character Education."

In the bustling halls of Old Trail School, an unspoken but palpable essence shapes the very fabric of education: character. Respect. Responsibility. Goodness. Service. These four pillars form our core values, creating the bedrock of each student’s journey from early childhood through grade 8.

These foundational principles are displayed in every classroom, serving as a north star that propels our students beyond the pursuit of academic excellence. Their collective influence can be seen and felt during Mission Mornings, community assemblies and service trips, and heard in classroom discussions among peers and between teachers and students. Nestled in the heart of our ethos, our core values wield an enduring impact, forging wellrounded, conscientious, empathetic and resilient graduates who lead and excel in high school, college and as members of society.

Old Trail School is more than an educational experience—it is a way of life.

“The importance of character education cannot be overstated, especially in the formative years found at Old Trail School,” said Head of School Sarah Johnston. “Academic achievements are undoubtedly vital, but it’s the amalgamation of knowledge with strong character that truly defines success at OTS. These foundational values aren’t just for school; they are life skills that pave the way for future leaders, changemakers and compassionate global citizens.”


In a school setting, character education is a learning process that enables students and adults to understand, care about and act on core ethical principles. Rooted in these fundamental values are the attitudes and actions that shape who we are and who we aim to be. Although each student’s journey is unique, Old Trail’s core values are unwavering, serving as cultural cornerstones of the OTS experience.

“Character education must be both proactive and reactive,” said Middle School Director Hallie Ritzman ’95. “This involves engaging students in discussions during advisory sessions, classes and on the athletic fields to address potential situations or dilemmas they may encounter. By providing students with the necessary guidance, we empower them to anticipate and navigate their thoughts and emotions in various situations.”

“Developmentally, we know that there are sure to be conflicts that arise for students. Our goal is to assist them innavigating their individual experiences while normalizing the universal challenges inherent in their growth.”

Most educators agree that character education is comprised of the following areas:

  • Developing integrity
  • Demonstrating respect for others
  • Acquiring skills for peaceful conflict resolution
  • Engaging in service to others
  • Nurturing responsible self-management

Old Trail’s small class sizes allow all students to be known and nurtured as individuals. Moreover, with all grade levels contained in the same building, middle school students are given the responsibility of acting as school leaders and role models both on campus and in our community—and they rise to the expectation. Last fall, Lindley Sanders ’24 organized a month-long sock collection to support the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless in Cleveland. For the third consecutive year, Carson Worley ’24 sponsored a shoe drive in February to benefit families who are in need in the Akron Public School district.

“An Old Trail education transcends textbooks and academic prowess,” Johnston added. “We strive to shape individuals who not only excel in their studies but who also embody qualities that define their moral compass.”


It’s been six years since Caleb Miller ’18 walked the halls of Old Trail as a student. But when prompted, many fond memories—both light-hearted (pretending to be asleep during nap time in Young 5s and navigating the tight stairways in middle school) and significant—return quickly and vividly as mental snapshots of his youth.

The self-described former “quiet kid,” who lists retired OTS teacher, administrator and coach John Pintola as one of his greatest mentors, has come a long way since graduation. He is currently studying oceanography and playing tennis at the U.S. Naval Academy, where the acceptance rate hovers around 10%.

“Thinking back to where it all started in Young 5s and all the life lessons I learned at Old Trail, it’s still such a memorable experience. The teachers were a major influence in my life. They pushed me academically to the point where I wanted to attend a school like the Academy, but were also supportive in helping me interact with my peers and making classes fun and exciting.”

After 10 years at Old Trail, Caleb attended Walsh Jesuit High School, where he was a member of the National Honor Society, a three-time varsity tennis team MVP, a sectional champion and the 2022 Greater Akron Tennis Player of the Year. He attributes much of his success in and out of the classroom to his formative years at Old Trail.

“Every class at Old Trail was challenging, and I learned something new each day,” he added. “But Old Trail also challenged me morally. It set the foundation for who I should be as a person. It’s the impact of asking yourself as a little kid, how do I view myself in the future? What should I do in a particular situation? What types of people should I associate with? What are good choices?

“Old Trail’s core values shaped me into a person dedicated to giving and serving others. This mindset carried over into my high school years and led to my decision to serve in the military and apply to the Naval Academy.”


As Old Trail School continues its legacy of nurturing young minds, its commitment to character development remains steadfast. Our role is to prepare students for the future, but we also seek to shape a future in which character acts as their steering principle. In doing so, Old Trail graduates leave with the tools—including a broad global perspective, a desire to give back and an appreciation for what they can contribute to the world—to make a difference wherever they take their education next.

Read the full issue online

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Exterior photo of Firestone Hall at dusk