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Bellamy Elementary teachers dress, teach like pirates for first day of school ... and beyond

Second-grade teacher Brittany Sawyer, from left, second-grade teacher April Woods and Exceptional Student Education teacher for second and third grade Amanda Sligh take a selfie with assistant principal Theresa Seits’ parrot at Bellamy Elementary School.
Second-grade teacher Brittany Sawyer, from left, second-grade teacher April Woods and Exceptional Student Education teacher for second and third grade Amanda Sligh take a selfie with assistant principal Theresa Seits’ parrot at Bellamy Elementary School.
Published Aug. 28, 2015

TAMPA

Bellamy Elementary School is going full pirate this year.

"Arrrgh you ready for a great school year?" assistant principal Theresa Seits asked students as they filed in the building Tuesday.

For the first day of school, every teacher, administrator and staff member donned pirate gear, carried "school maps to success" and handed out gold doubloons to students — all because of the Dave Burgess book Teach Like A Pirate.

Bellamy principal Francine Lazarus purchased the New York Times best-seller for all of her teachers to read over the summer. Using PIRATE as an acronym, it explains how to incorporate Passion, Immersion, Rapport, Asking and Analyzing, Transformation and Enthusiasm into daily lessons.

"We're taking it beyond traditional lectures," Lazarus said. "It's all about engaging students and the way the teachers deliver their lessons."

To get the teachers pumped for another year, the school had contests over the summer including videotaped skits and classroom decorating. Groups of teachers from each grade wrote and performed pirate songs and decorated rooms with ships, gold coins, interactive displays and even some Buccaneers fan gear.

"(We were) getting the entire school excited about the year," Lazarus said.

The pirate theme was a surprise to parents and students. By 7:20 a.m., students peered in the glass windows, eager to find out why their favorite teachers were wearing eye patches, bandanas and captains' hats.

Lazarus and Seits greeted students as they grabbed breakfast and searched for their new classrooms at the Town 'N Country school. Seits, Lazarus' "first mate," comforted new students by showing off her pirate telescope and parrot.

The pirate fervor doesn't stop after the first day or even the first week. The theme continues throughout the year as teachers incorporate swashbuckling and sea adventures into their lessons.

Lazarus sees Burgess' book as a way to reignite the passion of her teachers while engaging their students in more immersive lessons. To her, it's "more than raising test scores, (it's) about changing lives."

"When students are engaged, they learn more and retain more," said Lazarus, who heard Burgess speak in March during a Hillsborough Education Foundation event at Jefferson High School.

"Engaged learning is what's going to stick," she said.

Burgess, an award-winning San Diego high school teacher, also highlights lesson "hooks" teachers can use to draw students into a lesson and keep them attentive.

These hooks can be simple questions such as "How can I incorporate art into this lesson?" or "How can I use the lighting in the room to create a mood?" Some hooks get teachers to use Play-Doh or take their students outside to explain a subject.

Lazarus said these help get kids hooked into learning. And that is half the battle — making students excited about school and creating lifelong learners.

"(We are) teaching like pirates while we build leaders with heart," Lazarus said.

Contact Chelsea Tatham at ctatham@tampabay.com. Follow her @ChelseeaTatham.

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