Trotting the globe with Flat Russ
By the standards of most of his students, Greencastle High School principal Russ Hesler's spring break was less than exciting.
Named the high school's ninth principal in 12 years early in the spring semester, Hesler spent the last week of March moving into a new office, going through old files and generally adjusting to life in his new job.
However, some photos on the wall near Pat Gottschalk's second-floor Spanish classroom reveal a different spring break for Hesler. On these posters, one can the principal's smiling face in places as varied as the Great Smoky Mountains, Daytona Beach, New York, Washington State amd even on a cruise to Mexico and the Caribbean.
The reason for Hesler's spring break travels? An assignment for Gottschalk's Spanish 2 students.
As a way to get students to practice their preterite (or simple past) tense, the teacher sent paper cutouts of the principal called "Flat Russ" home with the students for break.
Students were then asked to take pictures of Flat Russ doing whatever they did during spring break, activities that ranged in excitement from feeding the cat to swimming in the ocean.
Gottschalk used the Flat Chuck, a WTHR promotion that uses a cutout of weatherman Chuck Lofton, as a prototype for creating Flat Russ.
"I printed out Flat Chuck, then convinced Russ to let me take a picture of his head and dressed him in purple and gray," Gotts-chalk said.
The kids liked the idea, but had some trepidation, wanting to know that Hesler was on board.
"I gave this to the kids and they said, 'Does Mr. Hesler know about this?'" Gottschalk said.
Knowing they would not be running afoul of Hesler's wishes, the students took the project and ran with it, actually excited to have an assignment during spring break.
Even the kids not visiting exotic locations found something interesting to do with Flat Russ, such as play soccer, feed the livestock, fix a car, practice with their rock band or play video games.
Back from spring break on April 1, Gottschalk gave her students a week to get the posters together, describing in the Spanish preterito what Flat Russ was doing in each photo.
"I thought it would be a cool way to practice the preterite," she said.
She also had each of her Spanish 2 classes sign a copy of Flat Russ to give to the principal before year's end.
Even without the gift in hand yet, Hesler is happy to have been a part of the project, citing a local icon who saw his name pop up in some pretty diverse places over the years.
"I'm glad to be up there with 'Marvin delivers,' and now 'Flat Russ travels,'" Hesler said with a smile.
"It got the kids doing a great project and if it takes putting my head on a piece of paper, it's worth it."