The Junior State of America (JSA), the largest student-run organization in the country, is dedicated to promoting political awareness among today’s youth. As a second-year club president, senior Evelyn Kessler explains the importance of JSA to students and the community.
What is the purpose of JSA?
Ever since its inception, the JSA has really taken it upon itself to spark political interest and reduce apathy among high school students. We inform our members about the world around them so that they can voice their opinions persuasively in weekly debates, discussions, and other politically-oriented activities.
As a club with such a long history of success, what has JSA tried to do differently this year?
One of our biggest moves this year was creating a JSA chapter at Oak Avenue Intermediate School. JSA has so much to offer high school students, so we wanted to get kids involved at even a younger age. Hopefully, offering JSA at this level will prepare students for the critical thinking that is often required in high school. But JSA does have a long-standing tradition, and we always pursue our mission of civic engagement.
How does JSA involve students outside of its weekly meetings?
We really make a concentrated effort to hold events that accurately represent the real world. We especially wanted to capitalize on increased political excitement that stemmed from the 2008 election. JSA held a mock election in which all students had an opportunity to vote for a presidential candidate and the California ballot propositions. We supplied informational materials to all classrooms so that students would be able to make well-informed decisions. This is just one of many things that we’ve done this year.
How has JSA influenced the community outside of the high school?
JSA has been extremely involved in real world politics. In 2007 and 2009, JSA banded with the Temple City Voice to host school board and city council candidates’ forums, respectively. The events gave city residents opportunities to speak directly with their future elected representatives before voting. Also, our JSA chapter has kept close contact with politicians like Assemblyman Anthony Portantino and DNC Deputy Political Director Ken Maxey. We’ve invited them to speak to us on several occasions. Under our new activism department, we have also tried to raise awareness by getting involved in community service. For example, a number of our members volunteered at the Los Angeles Food Bank.
What events will JSA be holding in the near future?
We’ve just come off of a successful Mini-Con, which is a day of debates and activities that we hold right here at school. Students from Temple City, other surrounding high schools, and even the Oak Avenue chapter were in attendance. We now look forward to attending the Spring State convention at the LAX Hilton from April 24 through 26. Our delegation will be able to interact with guest speakers and students from all over California in a weekend of debates, discussions, elections, and other activities.
Why should students join JSA?
JSA offers students an easily-accessible opportunity to develop their argumentative and oratory abilities. The club serves as a medium for many students, a vehicle that helps all members stay in contact with the ever-changing world around them.
What can JSA improve upon next year?
With some guidance from us, we hope that the Oak Avenue chapter continues to flourish and become even more involved with the high school JSA. Also, we look forward to seeing more members overcome the timidity that naturally comes with public speaking and being willing participants in our chapter.
This interview was conducted by Jason Wu. It was published in the Temple City Voice on April 17, 2009.