Tag Archives: Junior State of America

Staples Students: “JSA Changed My Life”

Charlie Effman’s first speech at Junior State of America was a nervous, mumbled mess.

Still, the audience applauded loudly.

Participating in JSA has helped Charlie immensely. Now co-president of Staples’ chapter of the national, non-partisan, student-led organization, he has learned about political debate, government, civic engagement, leadership and activism.

Debating ideas, at a JSA meeting.

He’s grown comfortable speaking in public. Last spring, no one told him he had to give an opening statement at the Northeast Electoral Candidate Forum. He nailed it — on the fly.

Vice president Elana Atlas entered high school convinced that everyone was judging her, and her voice was not welcome. Nervous and quiet, she went to her first JSA meeting.

The day before her first overnight convention, she panicked. But she went — and fell in love with it. Debates, speakers, knowledgeable students, fun — it all drew her in.

Convention by convention, Elana progressed from hesitantly asking questions to confidently leading her group.

“It was a place where I found my people,” she now says. “I realized my opinions were valued, and worth sharing.” In fact, she says, JSA has defined her high school life.

Lending support to a JSA friend.

At meetings, members debate everything from whether the US should get involved in military intervention, to whether or not dinosaurs would have been cool pets. They address complex, serious issues without scaring away newcomers.

“Meetings are safe places where students debate, discuss and learn, without being judged,” Charlie notes. “JSA is the perfect haven for young people to form their political understandings and beliefs.”

Convention speakers come from across the country — and along the entire political spectrum. Topics have ranged from free speech on college campuses to immigration. There are also activism workshops on topics like reproductive rights and gun legislation — again, allowing for a wide variety of opinions.

Charlie has written bills for the Winter Congress, clerked in a mock House of Representatives, run for elective office, and served as a mid- and high-ranking bureaucrat on the regional cabinet.

He’s learned to get endorsements, describe his platform, and win over voters. He’s found out how to talk about important issues with people he disagrees with — and how to take action. He’s discovered the highs and lows of politics, while having fun with friends.

Staples’ JSA contingent last year, at the Washington, DC convention.

Elana — now a convention coordinator for JSA’s entire Northeast State — debates “loudly, proudly, and most importantly, respectfully.” She runs meetings where she reaches out to students who remind her of her own freshman self.

“JSA taught me how to speak, and how to listen,” she says. “It taught me about different viewpoints, and allowed me to refine my own. JSA was life-changing.”

Club members attend 3 overnight conventions a year. The next is in February, in Washington, DC. It’s a great opportunity — but not everyone can afford to go.

JSA has set up a GoFundMe page. They’re already halfway there. To help the next generation of concerned citizens, click here.

Be It Resolved…

So how did a couple dozen Staples students spend the most beautiful day of the year?

Indoors.

They were in school all day yesterday, debating issues like whether waterboarding should be permitted by U.S. officials, women should be drafted, and adults should be allowed to serve alcohol to teenagers in private homes.

Those questions, and 15 others — ripped right from today’s headlines — were part of Staples’ “Modern Morality in the Law” mini-convention.  Sponsored by the school’s Junior State of America chapter, it drew participants from schools across the tri-state region.

This was not a high-profile event. There were no parents with camcorders, critiquing every argument and riposte. But the stakes were high — “Best Speaker” awards were presented — and debaters responded not just to each other, but to questions from peers in the audience.

Brandon Edelson (right) listens as AJ Green argues.

Brandon Edelson (right) listens as AJ Green argues.

“I like this because you learn more than in some classrooms,” Brandon Edelson said.

“And the topics are pretty cool,” fellow sophomore AJ Green added.

Junior Victor Hollenberg took the pro side of “Resolved:  that cosmetic surgery be prohibited for minors.”  He lost that round, but was philosophical:  “I guess people want their nose jobs.”

That was an interesting topic, but not as demanding as one he fielded earlier this year:  “Resolved:  that sex offenders should be chemically castrated.”

How did he do?  “Well, that one kind of spiraled out of control,” Victor admitted.

And off he went, to a new classroom and the next debate.  Sunshine was nice, but important points needed to be made.  Victor’s voice had to be heard.