Pirate Parrot highlights day of learning — with a baseball theme

| Sunday, Sept. 29, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The key member of the Pittsburgh Pirates who made a stop at North Hills Middle School never hit a home run or caught a fly ball, but he still is a special one — the Pirate Parrot.

He came by invitation of Zachary Skrinjar, a seventh-grade social studies teacher, and the timing couldn't have been better for the big bird to rally the young fans as they celebrated the team's first winning season in 21 years. A few days after the Sept. 20 visit, the team clinched a spot in the playoffs.

The playful mascot was the lunchtime highlight of a day devoted to Pirates- and baseball-related lessons in seventh-grade math, science, social studies and language-arts classes — and some tailgating.

“Everyone designed lessons,” Skrinjar, of Pittsburgh's Morningside neighborhood, said of his colleagues. “We're delivering differentiated intercurricular instruction at its best.”

His parents, Dick and Barb Skrinjar, had given their son the parrot visit for his birthday. He waited for just the right moment to schedule an event for the students.

Students in Skrinjar's classes plotted the latitude and longitude of Pirates players' hometowns.

“This was a cool way to learn about latitude and longitude,” said Wyatt Mays, 12, of Ross Township.

As the students worked, Skrinjar passed around an authentic St. Louis Cardinals baseball bat and some game balls he had caught. At the back of his classroom on a high shelf sit all manner of bobble-heads from his collection. At 35, he still can remember holding his World Series tickets as an eighth-grader.

In Nate Wilkinson's English classes, students watched a 20-minute ESPN video on the late Roberto Clemente, who perished in a plane crash on Dec. 31, 1972, on an earthquake-relief mission to Nicaragua.

Wilkinson, of Ross, touched on words such as “humanitarian” and “trailblazer” to describe the famed Pirates right fielder. “Isolated” and “overshadowed” were two other words that could be applied to his life.

“They recognize his name and know about the Roberto Clemente Bridge and his statue,” the teacher said. “Now, they'll see why he is so important to the city.”

In Clemente's memory, students brought in food to contribute to the district's Backpack Initiative. More than 300 food items were donated to help feed needy students on weekends.

Teacher Meghan Naim's math classes learned about batting averages and tried to calculate how many more seasons Andrew McCutchen would need to catch Pete Rose's record of 4,256 hits.

Classes were a bit more active for Sharon Hamlett's and the other science teachers' students who ran their own outdoor races just like the pierogies — Sauerkraut Saul, Jalapeno Hannah, Cheese Chester and Oliver Onion — do during every home Pirates game. Students raced 280 yards and clocked their time in seconds.

The Pirate Parrot's visit to the Ross school also built team spirit. The entire day was a blend of the social, emotional and academic, a perfect win-win for the students in the middle school, said Principal Beth Williams, of Ben Avon, who giggled at the prospect of being the Pirate Parrot's “wingman.”

“It was better to learn with a theme rather than learning boringly,” said Tony Palma, 12, of Ross Township.

Alyssa Aguglia and Gianna Albanese, both 12 and of Ross Township, said they thought the lessons were really cool. The baseball focus mirrored their own interest in the game.

Along with all the fun, Alyssa always will have a special memory.

“The parrot tried to eat my head,” she said, “but I got a hug.”

Dona S. Dreeland is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6353 or ddreeland@tribweb.com.

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