The plan is to encompass tour into fourth- and fifth-grade curriculum


Photo by Calvin Nuttall

By Calvin Nuttall

Pirates have stormed the classrooms in Morgan Hill as students set sail for a swashbuckling field trip destination. Morgan’s Cove, a pirate-themed attraction in a residential backyard, is transforming into an nonprofit education center where kids can explore history, navigation, and seafaring the old-fashioned way — with eye patches and treasure maps.

Educators from the Morgan Hill Unified School District accompanied a class of second-graders from the Jackson Academy of Math and Music Wednesday, Nov. 8, to tour the “pirate island” with home owner Rich Firato. Full of nautical decor and staffed by a crew dressed in period-appropriate attire, the backyard pirate village offers a fun way for students to engage with their classes.

“We’re super excited for the opportunity to fit this into our curriculum,” said Patrick Buchser, Jackson’s principal, during the tour. “Walking the facilities, it’s gorgeous. These guys have put in a lot of hard work to make something beautiful and give back to the community. You’ve got kids excited about learning, that’s a win-win all around.”

Morgan’s Cove began in 2000 as a passion project for Firato, along with friends Tim Barci and Doug Penn. Since then it has grown into a well-known event venue, with a full “pirate ship,” and a village with plenty of pirate paraphernalia to entertain visitors. The idea to turn “The Cove” into an education nonprofit emerged when the grandchildren of Ron Locicero, a Morgan Hill resident and retired educator, visited the village last year.

“It went over so well, I said, ‘We should do this for all of the schools,’” Locicero said. “So Rich invited the principals over to see what we can do. We want it to get adopted into the curriculum for fourth- and fifth-graders in the school district. The ‘pirates,’ like Rich, will teach the class. As the teachers, all you have to do is get the class here and get them home.”

Morgan’s Cove plans to do all of the “heavy lifting” in terms of creating the lesson plans, handouts, tests and quizzes, and other learning materials for the students, Locicero said. And if a participating school can’t make it to Morgan’s Cove, they will bring a “pirate ship” directly to students.

“I taught for 44 years, and I learned that if you can teach outdoors, students will have more fun, they’ll learn more, and they’ll remember more,” he said. “If I taught this lesson to kids in the classroom, they’d be bored to death. Here, they remember.”

Around each corner at “The Cove” students will find a hand-made exhibit or piece of art to ignite their curiosity.

“That’s why Rich wanted to do it,” Locicero said. “I love what I see, not one unhappy kid. I’m just helping. Rich deserves 150 percent of the credit. Not one kid here is bored because they had to do a school lesson.”

Kevin Fernandez, a friend of Firato’s and member of his “pirate crew,” helped guide the guests around the village and explained how they hope to fit their historical knowledge into the curriculum of Morgan Hill students. Nov. 8 served as a “trial run” to see how students respond.

“Our goal is to educate them on navigation, on sails, on the winds, the water, how to tie knots, that kind of stuff,” he said. “In the fourth grade, they learn about world travelers. And so, our goal is to have them come and get excited about navigation, because that is going to be one of their subjects. We make it easy for the teachers, and the kids really get into it. They love the pirate theme of the whole place.”

The mythos surrounding Sir Francis Drake inspired much of Morgan’s Cove. The English explorer and privateer raided the West Coast in the mid to late 16th century.

“Everything we do inside this park is basically made for a storyline,” Fernandez said. “Sir Francis Drake fits in because he was a navigator who went around the world, and we believe he stopped in the Bay Area, at a place called Strawberry Cove. It matches the maps he had and also matches his timeline. At the end of the day, it is all speculation, because we don’t have documents that say exactly where he went.”

Calvin Nuttall is a Morgan Hill-based freelance reporter.