Eighth-grade 'pirates' lay siege at P.K. Yonge


Eighth grade "pirates" surround the elementary school at P.K. Yonge to capture treasure (candy) on Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012 in Gainesville, Fla. The activity was intended to kick off an intensive reading and writing interdisciplinary unit about the morality of piracy.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Thursday, September 27, 2012 at 8:16 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, September 27, 2012 at 9:21 p.m.

George MacDonald stood stark as the negotiation over the candy went back and forth in the elementary school hallway.

The 13-year-old eighth-grader wore a red bandana and eyepatch as he and his fellow pirates bargained with a gaggle of second- and third-graders Thursday over a plastic treasure chest filled with Laffy Taffy and Sour Patch Kids while middle schoolers at P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School laid siege to the elementary school Thursday.

Teachers designed the activity as part of an intensive reading and writing unit that is part of a program funded by a more than $50,000 grant from the Florida Academic Literacy Network, which is part of the National Literacy Project.

The grant was awarded to a partnership between P.K. Yonge, Union County Public Schools and the North East Florida Educational Consortium.

The siege was staged to help students connect with a recent reading assignment about Sir Francis Drake's 1586 invasion of Cartagena, Colombia.

Eighth-grade students at P.K. Yonge have spent the week reading and discussing Robert Louis Stevenson's "Treasure Island" and a college-level article from Florida Historical Quarterly about Drake.

Nancy Dean, of the National Literacy Project, said the difficulty of the work pushes students to improve.

"The theory is if they want to excel in school, they have to tackle texts that are challenging to them," she said.

P.K. Yonge Curriculum Coordinator Christy Gabbard said the teacher-developed units are aligned with the Common Core State Standards, or standards developed by a state-led initiative across the country.

Students with plastic swords and pirate hats sang sea shanties loudly as they encircled the elementary school building around 2 p.m.

"What shall we do with a drunken sailor?" shouted Tim Hayes, eighth-grade U.S. history teacher.

"Put him in the long boat till he's sober," cried out his students, who crowded outside a window.

Small groups of pirate negotiators went inside to negotiate a price to end the siege.

Noah Cox, 13, said the siege helped him understand what pirates do without the more grisly aspects.

"It gives us a feel for what pirates do in a less lethal way," he said.

Taylor Padgett, 14, said she didn't find the week's readings too difficult because the class worked on summaries together.

After students returned to their classrooms, Hayes had his students write a quick reaction to the events. The students will later work on a longer essay about the morality of piracy, which teachers will discuss further through modern examples like Somali pirates and online piracy.

MacDonald, who helped secure the sweet booty by offering the younger kids a phony treasure map leading to the playground, later shrugged off the misleading tactic.

"What can we say? We're pirates," he said.

Contact Joey Flechas at 338-3166 or joey.flechas@gvillesun.com.

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