The Junior State of America (JSA) announced today that the winner of the 2015-2016 National Civic Impact Award is Secaucus High School of Secaucus New Jersey. The National Civic Impact Award recognizes the JSA chapter that has had the biggest impact on increasing the level of civic education, activism and engagement at their school and in their community. Out of the nearly 500 high school based JSA chapters across the nation, Secaucus High School was judged the top chapter out of the seven winners of regional “Chapter of the Year” competitions across the country.
A panel of judges consisting of trustees of The Junior Statesmen Foundation and JSA staff reviewed presentations given by Chapter Presidents and other materials submitted by the finalists, leading to Secaucus’ victory. University High School JSA Chapter in Irvine, California was a close second, and Interlake High School JSA chapter in Bellevue, Washington rounded out the top three.
Mr. Mike Gehm the long time Teacher/Advisor of the Secaucus Chapter was thrilled upon hearing the news his chapter had won. “I have always seen my role as an advisor, as just that… to advise. I have some simple rules – 1) I don't do the work, I advise and 2) you (the chapter) can do just about any activity they wish to do – as long as it aligns with the principals of what JSA is about – fail or succeed. Sometimes, you have to let yours fail, even if you know they've bitten off more than they can handle. One of the key things that I believe a good advisor can do is work to abridge any gaps between the chapter and local board of education and their town's city officials. It is one of the biggest payoffs once that bridge has been built and the students develop that relationship. It helps open doors that could be closed normally and the more you make them a "part of your chapter" (inviting them to chapter meetings and events), they begin to see the value that the youth have in growing their community. As an advisor, you have to accept that there will be "good" years and there will be "bad" years (ups and downs), but helping your chapter recognize "why" things didn't work, helps them to also recognize how to fix the problems. Sometimes you have to "push them" and other times, you can sit back and take the ride with them and be amazed at what they can do. “
In winning the award, the Secaucus Chapter will receive a $2,000 grant to the chapter in order to continue their civic engagement programs in the upcoming year, a $500 stipend to the chapter’s teacher/advisor and a plaque that can be displayed in the school’s award case.
The other chapters that participated in the competition were winners of their state’s “Chapter of the Year” award: Ossining H.S., Ossining NY, Rincon H.S. in Yuma, AZ; Naperville Central H.S. in Naperville, IL; Dublin Coffman H.S. in Dublin, OH
Chapter President Iqra Ahmed was excited to win the award, saying, “2016 has truly been a whirlwind of a year. Our chapter remained involved for the whole year due to the variety of events we held. With 213 Secaucus High School JSA members we were able to not only receive the Chapter of the Year award but were also honored to receive the National Civic Impact Award. In the relentless pursuit of a community that heralds knowledge and awareness, we launched several new initiatives in political activism and civic engagement. We were involved in leadership and JSA participation of every degree. And we served as a crucial pillar of support in civic involvement throughout our town. The Secaucus High School chapter is a model of unparalleled success.”
Highlights of the Secaucus JSA chapter activities included holding the first ever Secaucus Board of Education Candidates Forum. With a firm belief in transparency in the local government, both students and townspeople scrutinized platforms and challenged candidates to push themselves further with their goals. The Candidates’ Forum was so well met that the chapter then hosted a general Board of Education Forum, thereby starting another annual tradition. The chapter raised over $5,000 by hosting a town cricket tournament. This money will help support students who wish to attend JSA Summer Programs and Conventions. The judges were also impressed with the way the chapter engages the parents of members with their annual Parent Chapter Night.
Chapter Chief of Staff Nirali Patel was humbled by the announcement, “The Secaucus High School JSA chapter is the epitome of cultural development and political awareness. It allows students to explore new opportunities and become well rounded”
For winning the National Civic Impact Award, the Chapter has been recognized by the Secaucus Town Council and later this month will be honored at the New Jersey State House. The local Outback Steakhouse will also sponsor an awards dinner for the chapter.
The winning presentation can be viewed here: https://youtu.be/4RAlPT4o50U