FRENCH SETTLEMENT -- The children couldn’t take their eyes off the larger-than-life man dressed as a pirate.
And for all they know, he was a pirate, fresh off the boat and straight into their classroom at French Settlement Elementary. From the moment Captain Patch stepped through the door, the old buccaneer stole the children’s undivided attention.
Wearing an old pirate’s hat, a patch over his right eye, a big gray coat and a pair of dark weathered boots, Captain Patch enthralled the children with tales of his adventures on the seven seas, where he’d been sailing in pursuit of his arch nemesis, Captain Squinch.
Captain Squinch had recently stolen Captain Patch’s treasure, but thankfully, Patch told the children he was able to track down “that scurvy dog” and recover his beloved hoard of gold, silver and diamonds.
And that, Captain Patch said, is what brought him to the students’ classroom on this day: He needed them to keep his treasure safe.
“Can you boys and girls help hide me treasure?” Captain Patch said, drawing loud shouts of “yeah” from the kindergarteners seated on the floor.
Though he looked and talked like a real pirate, he wasn’t a real pirate.
In actuality, Captain Patch is the creation of the assistant superintendent for the Livingston Parish school system, Steve Parrill.
But don’t say that name around him when he’s in character — you may walk the plank.
“There be no Mr. Parrill here — it be Captain Patch,” he told a teacher he passed in the hallway.
For the last two weeks, Parrill set sail to nearly all elementary schools in Livingston Parish, triggering the playful imaginations of hundreds of students with his swashbuckling tales of Captain Patch, commander of the Ship of Destiny.
Parrill concluded his tour with visits to Frost, French Settlement and Maurepas on Thursday, Jan. 31.
Parrill said he created the character last school year when he visited his wife and daughter’s kindergarten and Pre-K classes. The only difference this year — there’d be many more voyages for Captain Patch.
“The word got out, and other principals wanted me to do it,” Parrill said. “So I just threw it out there and see who wanted it. I didn’t know if it would take off or not.”
It took off full speed ahead — though that was out of necessity more than anything else.
“I only had a two-week rental,” he joked.
Strapped with an eye-popping sword at his waist and a pirate outfit from New Orleans Costume Rental, Parrill visited three to four schools a day, spending most of his time with kindergarten classes.
After telling them of the mutinous Captain Squinch, Parrill would ask the students to hide his treasure and draw maps leading to its location. He’d then open it up to questions before taking photos with any pirate-loving students.
“Don’t say cheese — say ‘aaarrrggghhh,’” Parrill told FSE students.
The kids have certainly enjoyed the special appearance. Nearly all the schools Captain Patch visited have posted pictures of his appearance on social media. Parrill said he took 160 pictures with students in his visit to Albany Lower Elementary, and during his trip to North Live Oak, students were also dressed as pirates.
But Captain Patch’s visits weren’t limited to kindergarten classes.
Captain Patch roamed through hallways and classrooms at will, catching the curious eyes of students and teachers alike. He popped into a sixth-grade class in the French Settlement Elementary computer lab, then showed off bags of treasure to a few students in the cafeteria, then startled teachers and staff in the office.
Though the teachers and older students knew something was up, the kindergarteners and Pre-K students fell for the trap, which is why Parrill was originally against a story being written about Captain Patch’s exploits.
“I’ve really convinced the kids I’m a real pirate,” he said. “You saw how well they paid attention? They were really into it, because make believe is fun. And our mantra at the central office is to do all we can to support our staff and help our kids. I see this as doing both.”
One of Parrill’s favorite parts of the “Captain Patch” act was seeing the treasure maps the children drew. Several classes put their maps on the “pony,” or a truck from the Central Office that goes around the parish making deliveries to schools. One class even tied up 100 maps with a piece of string.
“The receptionist asked me why I’m getting so much mail,” Parrill said. “Those maps are hilarious.”
To Parrill, being Captain Patch has been a chance to reconnect with students in the classroom, something the former teacher and principal doesn’t get to do much these days.
“The sad thing about my job is each move I’ve made past principal, I’m moving farther away from the kids,” Parrill said. “The best job I had was being principal. You control your environment, you can do fun things with the kids. I miss it, which is what made this so fun.”