The kindergartners of Sewickley Academy, Pittsburgh's oldest PreK-Grade 12 co-educational, college-preparatory and independent day school, made a chance encounter into a nearly schoolwide project as they helped a very important person in our nation’s African American history celebrate his 100th birthday. Mr. Victor W. Butler of Rhode Island, the last of the Tuskegee Airmen, will have 73 cards to open from the students of Sewickley Academy when he turns 100 years old on May 21, 2022.
Kindergarten student Talon Ivy of Monaca, PA, was having dinner at a restaurant with his family earlier this year when he spotted some men in uniform. The 5-year-old approached the group to thank them for their service, and in turn, one man removed an Airforce patch from his jacket and gave it to Talon.
“Talon brought the patch in to show his class and their interest was immediately sparked,” said kindergarten teacher Lindsey Petruska. “We researched and learned that the plane shown on the patch was a C-17. Some of the kids got really involved in creating a detailed replica of the plane out of cardboard and other construction parts. Whenever our students really show an interest in a subject, we love to encourage them to run with that curiosity and see how much they can learn.”
The interest in airplanes expanded when the Lower School at Sewickley Academy recognized Black History Month in February 2022 by decorating classroom doors to feature important African American figures. Talon’s grandfather, Michael Smith, visited school the day the students participated in a gallery tour to view all of the decorated doors. One door showcased the Tuskegee Airman, and Grandpa Michael told Talon’s class everything he knew about them. Then the kindergarten teachers, Petruska and Stacey Widenhofer, built on those stories with age-appropriate information once they returned to their classrooms.
Grandpa Michael told his wife, Cherise, about the class’s enthusiasm for the topic, so when she recently came across a news story about Mr. Victor W. Butler’s upcoming 100th birthday, she reached out to Petruska and Widenhofer.
“We told the class about Mr. Butler, and that he’s only asking for cards for his birthday,” said Widenhofer. “If there’s one thing kids this age get excited about, it’s birthdays. We also talk a lot about numbers in our math program so they have a really good understanding of the significance of 100. They were eager to get started making cards for the man who once flew the airplanes they had learned all about.”