Tuesday wasn’t a typical day of school for the students at Chartiers Valley Intermediate School. The Penguins logo hanged on the blue lockers that lined the halls. Students darted from class to class wearing Penguins jerseys and shirts with palpable anticipation. Even teachers, donning their own Penguins jerseys, couldn’t help but get swept up in the fervor.
A sign displayed in the school’s entrance read: “Welcome to CVIS” with the Penguins logo in the center. The sign was created for Penguins defenseman Ryan Whitney, who made a special visit to the school as part of the Newspapers In Education program, a project with the Trib Total Media to encourage young students to learn by reading newspapers.
“We’re always looking for ways to promote literacy in our building, our reading program, and the students really look up to all the sports figures,” Principal Ron Yasher said. “Any way that (Whitney) can help us on this mission is truly appreciated. From the moment that I made the announcement, I had students approach me asking when he’s going to be here? When’s the program going to start? They certainly are very excited. It’s an honor to have a player from the Penguins come into our building.”
Whitney is the Penguins spokesman for the program and he read Z is for Zamboni
to two fourth-grade classrooms, answered questions from students, posed for pictures and signed autographs for students and faculty.
“It’s pretty cool,” Whitney said of the experience. “Everyone remembers being that age and looking up to local sports players. Everyone’s really excited. Hockey is really taking over here. All these kids really like the Penguins ever since Sid(ney Crosby) and (Evgeni) Malkin got here. It’s good to see all the fans.”
Whitney’s first stop was to the classroom of teacher Curt Cairns.
“They were extremely excited,” Mr. Cairns said of his students. “They couldn’t wait for him to get here. They wanted to make posters, cards and we even wrote two poems for him.”
Mr. Cairns’ students had been anticipating Whitney’s arrival since Monday when Principal Yasher announced which two classrooms the Penguins defenseman would visit.
“When Mr. Yasher had the drawing and my class was picked, my kids were excited,” said Mr. Cairns, who had on his Sidney Crosby
jersey. “Mr. Yasher announced it to us first and then announced it over the loud speaker. There was a tremendous roar from our classroom.”
The students drew and colored a big Penguins’ logo for Whitney. He sat in front of the sign and Mr. Cairns’ students sat around him on the floor as he read to them. They then asked him questions like: Why did you want to play hockey? Do you always fight? How many practices did it take to learn how to skate?
Whitney signed autographs for the students and then listened as a few of the students read poems to him. One of those students was Brad.
“It was pretty exciting,” Brad said. “All the kids that didn’t get to paint a part (of the sign) got to team up and write a poem. I wrote three out of four of the lines. It was really cool.”
Courtney also read a poem to Whitney. She said that Whitney is one of her favorite Penguins players.
“I like him because he’s always trying to do the best that he can,” she said.
The next stop for Whitney was to teach Frank Zissis’ classroom on the second floor. Mr. Zissis, wearing a Mario Lemieux jersey, said that the students were so amped to see him that they couldn’t concentrate on their work.
“They’ve been wound up since (Monday),” Zissis said. “There wasn’t much going on today because they were so excited. It’s fun to have a sports figure come in and show them that reading is important. It shows that sports stars read too. It makes it kind of real for them.”
Whitney signed papers, programs, pucks, jerseys and even students’ shoes. One of Mr. Zissis’ students, Josh, broke his leg playing football and was wearing a cast. He politely asked Whitney to autograph his cast.
“I know what it’s like to have a cast,” Whitney said. “Of course I’ll sign that for you.”
At the end of each session Principal Yasher and Whitney reminded the students of the importance of reading.
“Every kid can read a little more growing up,” said Whitney, who also read to Perrysville Elementary earlier this month. “My parents always reminded me of how important it was. That’s one of the reasons you want to remind the kids that it’s good to read, and it's good for their future.”