At a school where the Board of Trustees unanimously voted to admit members of the “non-white” races on May 7, 1963 – just days after the televising of fire hoses and police dogs being unleashed on segregation protesters in Birmingham, Alabama, and more than a year before the Civil Rights Act passed – we acknowledge that our community must not just be welcoming but also a leader in the discussions about inclusion and equality. It should come as no surprise then that Academy was the first school in Central Ohio to hire a full-time director of diversity and community life.

… belonging to each other is messy, hard work and asks of us to act with the generosity of spirit and sense of shared success which can only exist in a community that views its relationships with a kind of sacredness. The character with which we treat others anchors us in our independent school’s mission and in the most transformative aspects of our education.

~ Melissa Soderberg, Head of School

“Character” cannot be quantified by grades or test scores, yet it lies at the heart of any serious education. At Academy, we study ethics and morality in our classes, practice fairness and good sportsmanship on our playing fields, and emphasize service to others across all grades. Our teachers, staff and coaches are trained in “ethical literacy,” and we have formal character-building programs woven into our curriculum at every grade level.

An example is a required course for all sophomores in “Ethics and Community” taught by Tim Leet, who has coordinated the school’s efforts in pursuing the goals of Academy’s Ethics and Character program since 2010. Upon finding a lack of strong resources aimed specifically at adolescents, he researched and wrote Ethics and Identity, which takes the complexities of teenage life seriously and focuses specifically on moral identity development while acknowledging the powerful psychological forces that often get in the way of good decision-making like implicit associations and the confirmation bias.

Yet while we teach the big ideas of ethics and morality, it is the small, daily acts that shape our culture. A student shakes a guest’s hand in welcome. A senior helps his 5-year-old buddy get to class. A group of middle school girls embrace a new student with warmth. Our teachers and staff are exemplars of good character who seize on ethical teaching moments as they happen. We ask our children to ask themselves: How do I own my mistakes? What can I do to make someone’s day better? Was I the best I can be today? In our community, students learn by example. They internalize the lessons of character by seeing them played out in our school’s culture, every day.

Our Kids 4 Kids program is a schoolwide service learning project every fall that involves our entire community in collecting food, clothes, toys and everyday household materials for families in need through the Childhood League Center. And early in the school year, our upper-schoolers spend a Service Day getting involved in the community via 30 different local agencies and centers that provides important services to those less fortunate. There are also on-campus blood drives, for which our Upper School received a 2017 Life Sharing Challenge first-place award, and many other opportunities for students to have an impact. For those interested in ceramics, an annual Empty Bowls event is held at Otterbein University featuring bowls created by Academy students to help raise funds for the Westerville Habitat Partnership. All of these efforts are coordinated by a student-run Service Board, the largest organization at Academy.

I just want to thank everyone involved at Columbus Academy. Our older two sons are in college and the youngest three are 5 and under so we pinch pennies! I was so very surprised by this event. We are set on winter clothes for all three littles now and have a great start on Christmas. I got a ton of puzzles, which is exactly what I was wanting for them. I was in tears that day because I wasn’t sure how we were going to pull off Christmas, and now I know all will be well. Thank you again!

~ Kids 4 Kids Beneficiary

At Academy, we set the bar high. We expect our students to have integrity, where inner qualities match outer actions, and to possess moral courage, where they stand up for principles and defend others. We want them to be intentional, to have generosity of spirit and to value people and relationships. We want them to be the kind of people who do the right thing even when no one is looking.

We also want to provide them with opportunities to stretch themselves in ways that may not happen in classrooms, so a new initiative is our External Engagement Program. In addition to providing our older students with a database of summertime enrichment options, Director of Internships and Community Engagement Jennifer Conti is working to connect upper-schoolers with mentorship opportunities in partnership with both local organizations and domestic/international programming.

Through internships, mentoring opportunities and external summer enrichment experiences, Columbus Academy students engage in meaningful endeavors with problem solving, critical thinking and leadership opportunities that not only cultivate their own interests, but also deepen connections, partnerships and engagement within our local community.

The end result of all these efforts is that our graduates go on to the colleges of their choice and emerge from childhood with one of the best educations in America. But they take more than their diploma and their memories with them: they take dignity and graciousness, openness and candor, self-assurance and humility. In their hearts, minds and actions, they are shining examples of what “character” at Academy means.