It's called Character Ed, and it does contain some valuable life lessons.
But for fifth- and sixth-graders at Eldredge and Hanaford elementary schools, Bob Houghtaling is hoping to draw some character out of the students in preparation for the challenges they will soon be facing at Cole Middle School.
Culture will be a big part of that adjustment, Houghtaling, the town's substance abuse prevention coordinator, says after his recent final visit to Hanaford for the 2010-11 school year.
“If you're able to adjust to other cultures and other languages, going to middle school will be a piece of cake,” he says.
Character Ed covers a wide array of subject matter, says Houghtaling, from decision-making and substance abuse issues to bullying and social skills. Police Sgt. John Carter, the department's juvenile officer, also visits occasionally.
On this day, Houghtaling begins his half-hour session by talking to students about their recent field trip to Plimouth Plantations. The chat eventually turns to languages, and which ones students have learned. The Hanaford fifth-graders already are well represented on the linguistic spectrum, not just by Spanish, French and Italian, but also in tongues as diverse as Russian and Hebrew. A number even plan to use them abroad this summer.
Per tradition, the session ends with a round of “Stump Mr. Bob,” where students try to trip him up on questions involving geography, history and culture.
“I try to establish a relationship with kids out of my role as a substance abuse person,” Houghtaling says. “I goof around a little, but mix it with some pretty heavy-duty stuff.”
“The purpose of Character Ed is to help them with their critical thinking skills and apply th