Swash-buckling second-graders 'shiver their timbers' on pirate day

By Mark Iacampo, U.S. Army Garrison Hohenfels Public AffairsSeptember 30, 2013

It's a pirate's life for me!
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The Jolly Roger
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Ship building 101
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HOHENFELS, Germany -- "Avast there, mates! Stow away yer gear and assemble on the quarterdeck for orders!"

It's not every day that second grade starts like this, but International Talk Like A Pirate Day (ITLAPD) is not your ordinary day. At least not in Kathryn Iacampo's class.

"Every second-grade teacher in DoDEA is covering the same list of standards," Iacampo said, referring to the academic concepts that students are expected to master at each successive grade level. "Celebrating ITLAPD is my way of being creative and putting my own personal stamp on how I present the concepts to the students so they get to have an original and unique experience during their school day."

Created in 1995 by John Baur and Mark Summers, ITLAPD has gained steadily in popularity since columnist Dave Barry promoted it in 2002 and is now 'celebrated' on virtually every continent. The parodic holiday suggests that everyone spend Sept. 19 talking like a pirate, with the appropriate 'arrrhs and matey' peppering their conversation.

Iacampo has been celebrating ITLAPD for over 10 years with her students and said how the fun activities really serve to focus the children on the lessons.

"Attitude is so important for anyone trying to tap their potential," she said. "If the children's attitude is one of excitement, they are going to be more engaged in what they learn. Pirates are cool right now, and just to think that they can come to school dressed like a pirate gets them all excited to be there."

The fun doesn't stop with the outfits and the nautical names for everyday items, such as 'galley' for the cafeteria or 'kip' for their desk. What would any good pirate day be without a treasure hunt?

Students learned about the shelving system for fiction books in the library, where books are cataloged by the author's last name. To test what they learned, they were separated in teams of three and then given an author and a book to find.

"Inside the cover was a clue to the next book," said Iacampo. "So they got lots of practice going around chasing down their five books. Behind the last book was hidden a treasure bag with beaded necklaces, pirate-themed toys and candy."

The students studied cartography by creating a pop-up map and labeling the continents and oceans, then building tiny sailing ships to sail between them through slots cut in the map. Their math lesson came in the form of a glyph, where answers determined the particulars on individualized pirate illustrations, such as whether the pirate had a hat or a hook.

Owen Moore said he really enjoyed creating a pop-up caravel ship, complete with masts and sails, and a moveable side that revealed the cargo hold.

"I like to learn about stuff I never heard before," he said.

The crew even mixed up their own batch of 'hard tack,' the ubiquitous sailor's biscuit that could last for years if kept dry.

"Back in the day, they took this hard tack and put it in their drink to soften it, and then at nighttime they finished their drink and ate the hardtack, and sometimes there were bugs in it," explained Athena Duenas. "I wouldn't eat those, even though they have lots of protein."

"We put ours in root beer, and at the end of the day we got to eat it," said Amaia Rodriguez.

"But it was kind of mushy," complained Priscilla Whorton.

"It was like 'pirate brownies,' said Gatlin Cimenilli.

Duenas' favorite project involved designing her own pirate flag.

"We looked at the flags belonging to certain particularly famous pirates such as Captain Kidd, Henry Avery and Blackbeard," said Iacampo. "We discussed the different meanings behind the various symbols that may appear on a pirate flag, such as an hourglass or the skull and crossbones themselves, even the color of the flag which could be red or black.

"This ties into our lessons later in the year when we discuss some of the symbols of our country and our flag; what do the stars mean, what do the stripes symbolize?"

Iacampo said that since the children are so engaged and excited by pirate day, the lessons stick out more in their minds.

"There's a lot of confusion in second grade between left and right, but after pirate day, if I say port or starboard, those students know exactly which side I'm talking about," she said.

"Every year, I have students from previous years who, when they see me dressed up for pirate day, run up and hug me and tell me that pirate day was the best day ever," she added.

The crew also visited Caryn Curry, HES principal, and sang a sea ditty and shared some of their new piratical prose.

"They knew vocabulary, they sang a song, and they were super proud. And I was entitled 'Admiral Curry.' It was wonderful," she said.