Alum David Knatcal on Giving Back—with His New JSA Chapter
Monday, December 28th, 2015 @ 6:10PM
David Knatcal (SoCal, Downtown Magnets H.S. ’86) was a Junior State chapter member and summer school attendee, and will never forget his experiences. It made such an impact on him that he’s now a JSA Teacher Advisor at Burroughs High School in Burbank, California, educating his students in civic engagement. In this interview, he shares what makes JSA inspiring, the great work of his students, and why he came back to it: the power of youth leadership. His students recently raised over $1,800 for Camp Ronald McDonald for children with cancer.
This is the fifth year that alumnus David Knatcal has seen his JSA chapter contribute to the Camp Ronald McDonald fundraiser, providing positive play experiences for youth with cancer. As a JSA alumnus himself, he shares his experience with the programs and the impact he’s made on his students.
How did the JSA chapter get started at your school?
I had the intention to form a chapter 10 years ago. When a student asked me, “Hey Mr. K, why doesn’t Burroughs have a debate club?” I told them that I did know of an organization called JSA. Like a lot of students, I thought he would just pass it on as he got caught up in the other parts of his school life. But the next day the student, Richard Meline, approached me with a full JSA application and announced that he was starting a chapter. It really started with him.
What got me thinking about and coming back to JSA is that we’ve had clubs here on campus like mock trial, Odyssey of the Mind, and academic decathlon…and they’ve folded. But the reason why I think JSA has stayed is because of the dedication of the teachers and the fact that the organization emphasizes student leadership and organization. Back when I was in JSA, teacher advisors gave up their weekends and their lunches to give back. I knew I wanted to do that for someone else.
What were some actions that the students did to advocate for their recent service project?
The students took the lead in interacting with Camp Ronald McDonald. They distributed canisters to all classrooms and encouraged other students and teachers to donate. They got the fundraiser advertised through our closed circuit morning program, “Good Morning John Burroughs. Ed Lodgen, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, came out to speak to our chapter both at the end and the beginning of the campaign to help fire up the students. The students made the entire fundraiser possible and publicized it to the entire school community.
That’s very inspiring. The JSA Burroughs Chapter has been awarded JSA Chapter of the Year several times in the past. What do you think keeps your students maintaining such a strong chapter?
We had a string of really good years in student leadership. The next chapter president has the weight on them to do as well or better than the year previous. What inspires me about our students is that they try to always do better.
What else inspires you about JSA and your students?
It amazed me that even at a young age—and this is a quality that is sometimes lacking in adults—when the students see a need and problem to fix they don’t just put it aside. They step up and see what they can do. The last several years, they’ve been giving back to their communities. They don’t hesitate to go into it eagerly. They struggle through the challenge sometimes, but they realize that there are other people who struggle even more.
When I was with my chapter, we were very focused on JSA. As a kid, I attended summer school and went to the Northern California overnight convention, but we didn’t do a lot in the greater community. It really inspires me that the JSA Burroughs kids today took their JSA experience and goals to become involved in their community, and they’re very involved in what they do day-to-day. I have students who come in for JSA every lunch period, and what they’re doing as they come in is build community.
What’s one recent story about your JSA Burroughs chapter that you’re most proud of and want to share?
There was a story my students had heard a few weeks ago about an isolated chapter in Norfolk, Nebraska. They were the only JSA chapter in Nebraska. The students there felt isolated, and they felt their future as a JSA chapter was at risk. My students reached out to them to help them feel more involved. They’re planning a Skype debate so that they don’t feel isolated.
That’s incredibly sweet of them! And very characteristic of JSA. Thank you for sharing that story. Do you have any last words that you want to share about your JSA experiences?
We’ve had good support. We’ve never gotten a no from alumni to come speak to our students. We’ve called upon alumni to help us out and they’ve always graciously said yes. We’ve had Cudahy City Councilman Jack Guerrero, California State Assemblyman Matthew Harper, and Vince Farhat, a partner at Holland & Knight come to speak to our students — all JSA alumni. We’ve never gotten a no.
Board of Trustees of Camp Ronald McDonald with $1863.
By bringing Junior State of America to his students at John Burroughs High School, alumnus and teacher advisor David Knatcal has helped to change their lives. Recently, three of his students were honored with Ronald Reagan Student Leader Awards. We thank him and all of our JSA educators for the work they do to promote the leaders of tomorrow and act as support beams to our students’ achievements and work.