It is a big weekend for students, faculty and staff at Sewickley Academy's Senior School, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary.
On Friday, the school on Academy Avenue will host assemblies for all students that include a slide show about the school's history and musical performances by students portraying the Beatles and the cast of "Hair."
Saturday's festivities feature talks from former staff members instrumental in the founding of the Senior School.
Susan Sour, alumni associate and an alum herself, said the anniversary marks a time for the school and students not only to celebrate, but to understand the importance of the history of the school and of the era during which it was founded.
"We thought it would be a good time to remind our students of not only our history and their role with the school, but of that time in history in the U.S. The 1960s were a complicated time," she said.
Ms. Sour said the events will begin in a formal style with State Sen. Matt Smith, D-Mt. Lebanon, presenting a resolution commemorating the Senior School anniversary.
"Then we will have our slide show and performances -- it is going to be fun and educational," she said.
On Saturday, the school will welcome several alumni and former faculty to a program marking the 50th anniversary.
The Senior School was created in 1963 by the academy's head of schools, Cliff Nichols, and a core group of educators that included Jim Cavalier, the first head of the senior school.
"It was Cliff's vision to have the Senior School. He persuaded parents not to send their kids away or to other local schools and to trust that we could provide the same superior education to the older students that we were providing for the younger students," Ms. Sour said.
Until 1963, students could attend through only ninth grade at Sewickley Academy then enroll elsewhere to finish their high school studies.
That first year, the school added 10th grade, then added an upper grade each year. By 1966, the school had its first graduating class. Since that time, 3,142 students have graduated from Sewickley Academy.
Mr. Cavalier will be taking part in the anniversary celebration. Now retired and living in Glen Osborne, he looks back on the start of the school with pride.
"A lot of people told us we wouldn't be able to do it -- that it would never work," he said. "The tradition of sending the children to boarding school was so strong -- almost 100 percent of the students would go off to boarding school after ninth grade."
Mr. Cavalier said the board of the school did a feasibility study and found parents had expressed an interest in keeping their children nearby.
The first year, there were 35 tenth-graders, a number that soon grew to 38 when former students returned from boarding school.
A real plus, said Mr. Cavalier, was the fact it was co-educational.
"The board had greatly underestimated that impact. We had boys who lived in Sewickley or nearby North Hills and would say, 'Why go off to an all-boy school when I can go 20 minutes and attend Sewickley Academy where there are girls, too,' " he said. "It was the right thing to do at the right time."
Mr. Cavalier said the faculty and board knew they had a strong academic foundation to build on from the lower and middle schools, but also incorporated the concept of allowing students to choose how to spend their study halls.
"One of the biggest problems for kids when they go to college is the transition from being told where they were spending every moment to all that free time. We decided to allow the students to choose if they wanted to go to the library, go outside and talk or throw a football instead of sitting in a study hall," he said.
At first, the sight of a student walking outside on campus was unusual, but soon became accepted, he said.
"It was a real change of pace and created a sense of independence and time management," Mr. Cavalier said.
Mr. Cavalier, who retired in 1992, said the investment of the first students and their parents, along with his excellent faculty, helped provide the foundation for the success of the Senior School.
"To see how it has grown and the fact that we are celebrating 50 years, it is really wonderful," he said.
Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: email@example.com. First Published October 10, 2013 1:52 AM