It was a sort of homecoming for Kelly McCarthy.
McCarthy is a Montana state representative from the South Side and was at Newman Elementary on Thursday morning with Stockman Bank's Butch Bratsky and Billings Police Chief Rich St. John for School District 2's annual Educator for a Day event.
It had been decades since McCarthy was last at Newman, where he attended school as a child. He enjoyed being back.
"That used to be my chair when I was in third grade," he quipped, pointing to a seat in the hallway reserved for disruptive students.
Educator for a Day is an annual outreach event organized by the Education Foundation for Billings Public Schools to better connect business and community leaders with the schools in Billings.
It was MacCarthy's first time participating. Bratsky and St. John are longtime veterans of the program.
"My degree was in education," Bratsky said. "I was supposed to be a teacher."
He participates every year because he loves to visit the classrooms, interact with the students and see what's happening in the schools.
"It's nice to stay up to date on what the kids are doing, what the schools are doing," he said.
And so it didn't take long for Bratsky to settle into Julie Schopp's second-grade classroom and work out some complicated math puzzles with a couple of students.
They had just finished a classroom exercise where Schopp was teaching the basics of multiplication. Retiring to small groups, the students grabbed their iPads and sat with adult helpers to work on individual problems.
"These are hard," one of the students exclaimed.
"I know," Bratsky told her. "You're getting it."
After successfully working out the solution, the girl reached over and gave Bratsky a fist-bump.
Principal Travis Niemeyer gave the three men a tour of the school, showing just what the recently passed $122 million bond will do for Newman.
He also explained the challenges he and his staff face teaching at a South Side school. Almost 74 percent of the students there qualify for free and reduced-price meals.
The school has a washer and dryer where they can get their coats or other clothes washed.
"These things are used on a daily basis," Niemeyer said.
McCarthy appreciated seeing it all up close. Along with the bond passed earlier this month, Billings voters also approved a $1.2 million technology levy last May.
Newman has already put much of it to use in the classrooms.
"You can see the giant leap they took," McCarthy said.
It's a far cry from what he had as a student there in the 1980s. It's certainly an improvement over what students had even a year ago.
"These kids have something this year they didn't have last year," he said.