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Congressman Owens visits Norwood-Norfolk Central School


NORFOLK - With a map of the Middle East on display in the front of the classroom, Congressman William L. Owens told students in Heather McCuin’s Global Studies class at Norwood-Norfolk Central School that’s he not sure how he would vote on whether to take military action in Syria.

Mr. Owens visit to the class was part of a visit to the school on Friday that also included a walk-through of fifth-and sixth grade lunch and a tour of the district’s elementary wing.

While in the Global Studies class, Mr. Owens said he gets a lot of “inside information” that he often uses when trying to make a decision on such things as whether to take military action against a country.

Ms. McCuin asked the congressman what sources he uses for reliable information, which prompted his comment on inside information.

“I rely very little on the internet,” he said. “The stuff we focus the most on from the Congressional Research Service.”

Mr. Owens did say though, that he also reads the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal each day.

When asked of his own involvement so far in the talks involving Syria, Mr. Owens noted that he participated in a conference call on Labor Day that included Secretary of State John Kerry. He also attended a briefing on the situation Monday.

“I have not decided how I would vote,” he said. “I still have some unanswered questions.”

With Russia’s involvement in the situation and the appearance that a non-violent resolution may be possible, Mr. Owens said that appears to be a step in the right direction.

“Clearly what has happened with the possibility of a political solution is the best possible outcome,” he said.

And while Russia and the U.S. may not be best friends on the global stage, Mr. Owens said that Russia’s involvement may not be as innocent as it seems.

He said the answer to why Russia is so concerned about chemical weapons in Syria lies simply with the geography of the region, noting there is a large radical Muslim population just south of Russia.

“The answer lies right within the map,” he said. “On a global basis you can see how countries respond with their own personal interests.”

Should Syria agree to surrender its chemical weapons, Mr. Owens said that would be the best possible outcome, as even the military action being discussed isn’t one that would destroy the weapons. He also noted that Russia may be concerned about Syria distributing its chemical weapons across the region.

“This is not a destruction of chemical weapons operation,” he said. “We’re trying to degrade their ability to deploy. In the case we can get the Syrians to give up their chemical weapons, we will have achieved a greater outcome.”

Norwood-Norfolk Superintendent Jamie Cruikshank then asked Mr. Owens whether he had any advice for the students, who are two weeks into their high school careers.

“I was elected to Congress four years ago,” he said. “I was 60 years old, and I was a freshman.”

He continued, “The most important thing you can do is try to keep a steady pace of work, try to learn the fundamentals of the subjects you’re taking.”

Mr. Owens also advised students to keep a good sense of humor.

“Make sure no matter what, you have a laugh every day. It will help you academically and emotionally,” he said, suggesting that students could bring a short joke with them to school each day.

When asked what she though of the idea, Ms. McCuin said she could get material from The Daily Show to share in her classroom. During the congressman’s visit, she was also joined in class by Peter McLean, who also teaches history in the district.

From there Mr. Owens made his way to the cafeteria, where he stopped by for some small talk with the district’s fifth- and sixth-grade students, who were excited to meet “someone famous.”

While the visit came as a surprise to many of the students, Douglas Pryce said his mother told him the congressman was coming to visit the school.

“My mom was talking about him yesterday,” he said.

Several other students thought the fact a congressman would visit them and take a few minutes to chat with them was “cool.”

“It’s pretty cool and very interesting,” said Jude Lauzon.

“Caleb Pettit agreed,” It feels pretty cool. I think its cool that he gets to work with the president.”

Another student said that unless you count “college hockey players” he has never met anyone famous before.

“It’s never happened before, at least at this place,” he said of meeting a celebrity or having a congressman stop by during lunch.

During a walk through of the district’s elementary wing, Mr. Owens ran into one first-grade teacher, who wasn’t afraid to voice her displeasure with the new Common Core standards.

“That’s the message I’m getting,” he said. “I have many teachers in my family who are providing me with information and feedback.”

Superintendent Jamie Cruikshank agreed that implementing the Common Core has been a challenge.

“The Common Core is certainly robust and there are some concerns with our teachers on the appropriateness of it,” he said.

Mr. Cruikshank then gave the example of first graders being expected to read and answer questions on Mesopotamia.

“Teaching about Mesopotamia with first graders... It’s not that it can’t be done, but the Common Core is very robust,” he said, adding teachers are concerned about whether students are “cognitively prepared” for such lessons.

That being said, Mr. Cruikshank said he doesn’t think the Common Core is going anywhere.

“I don’t think it’s going away. Common Core is here to stay,” he said. “It’s a change from what our teachers and families are used to, but it’s up to the state Ed Department to provide the curriculum and it’s up to us to teach it.”

Early in the visit, Mr. Owens also presented the district with a flag that had been flown over the U.S. Capitol.

“We hope you’ll fly this at the school,” he said.

Mr. Cruikshank said he was honored to receive the flag and noted that he would wait for a “sunny day” before flying it outside.

“It is certainly an honor that he presented this flag to us,” he said.

Mr. Owens said he enjoys visiting school and talking with students.

“I think that for the kids to see an elected official came in and engaged in discussion with them gives them the view of us that we want them to have, that we are accessible,” he said.

Mr. Cruikshank agreed.

“It was really nice to see him relaxed and talking with the kids,” he said.

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