McCarthy visits Murray technology class

McCarthy visits Murray technology classBy Jessica Weston, News Review Correspondent

“When the server shuts down you call the server company to fix it. Who do you call when the government shuts down?”

That’s the question Murray Middle School teacher Kate Champeny said she and her students faced last fall when the US budget crisis/government shut-down interfered with computer access in one of her Gateway to Technology classes.

“Our class is very technology heavy. We use computers regularly,” Champeny said. “NASA websites we [would normally] use were closed during the government shutdown. Who knew that the ripple effect [of the shutdown] would hit a classroom?”

Answering the earlier question (“who do you call?”) would lead to a surprising result: Congressman Kevin McCarthy visited Champeny’s classroom last Wednesday after thirty of her students emailed him last fall asking for his help in resolving the problem.

“We have to work in groups, and it’s hard so it would be nice if you could too,” Champeny said, paraphrasing one of the students’ key points. (In addition to representing this district, McCarthy was a natural for the kids to contact because Murray bestows a quarterly Kevin McCarthy award to all students meeting certain standards in academics and conduct.)

“The students each got an email back from Congressman McCarthy,” she said. “As soon as the budget was passed [the system] came back up,” she said, adding that the students “high-fived each other when the government shut-down ended.”

But the story wasn’t over yet.

After receiving the email letters from the kids (and meeting Champeny at an earlier event), McCarthy spoke in front of a full classroom Wednesday morning. In attendance were base and school representatives (including Murray Principal Kirsti Smith), School Board Member Amy Castillo-Covert, District Superintendent Joanna Rummer, Capital Police Officers, other teachers, and McCarthy staff members from Bakersfield—not to mention Champeny and 60 of her kids (from two Gateway to Technology classes).

“This was a visit from the Majority Whip of the US House of Representatives and it felt like that,” Champeny said.

“When the Congressman came I [explained] what happened and why we contacted him,” she said.

McCarthy spoke to the kids. “He talked to them about working in groups, compromise, sharing ideas, and having ideas shot down,” she said.

“When he spoke with the students he [also] gave them his education and history,” said Principal Kirsti Smith. “I thought it was wonderful that he was able to explain that college is attainable.”

“The kids sat completely respectfully listening to what he was saying but I knew what they really wanted was to show him what they were doing,” said Champeny.

“So I asked if he would like to look at their projects.

“We all stood back and let them show him what they do.” Champeny said. The students led the Congressman around the classroom, showing off diverse projects involving VEX Robotics, AutoCAD Inventor (a 3D modeling program), and wind turbines, as well as other electronics projects.

By this point, any sense of ceremony had faded away and “it was all the kids and the Congressman. It didn’t matter who else was in the classroom or what it took to get them there,” Champeny said. “It was just a chance for the kids to take him around the room and show him what they did in the class.”

The event ended with McCarthy presenting his namesake award to roughly 56 eighth-grade recipients on a portable stage on Murray’s front lawn. (The sixth and seventh graders had already received theirs.) Principal Smith was impressed with the Congressman’s rapport with the students. “When we were doing the presentations he was very gracious with them. He posed with everyone who wanted a picture,” she said.

The admiration, apparently, was mutual. Congressman McCarthy later described his impressions of the event via email: “Having received letters from Mrs. Champeny’s students at Murray Middle School, I wanted to take the opportunity to speak to them and see first-hand the projects that they were working on. I could not be more impressed at the work these students are doing in robotics and engineering and the dedication from the teachers and staff at Murray.”

Story First Published: 2014-01-29