Hero Spotlight: Debbie Minchin

Wednesday, July 13th, 2016 @ 3:57PM

Debbie Minchin first saw the glimmer of something special when her daughter’s friends started coming over to talk politics. “I saw her enthusiasm,” Debbie says of Felicia (NES ’05). It was that infectious enthusiasm that convinced Debbie to serve as a volunteer chaperone for JSA activities—and to eventually become the Teacher-Advisor (TA) for the New Rochelle High School chapter. In this interview, we learn what JSA means to the adults in our students’ lives—both teachers and parents.

Who are the most memorable students you’ve met while advising for JSA?

There are some really amazing students who I’ve seen become JSA stars, but the students who stick out to me the most are those who start off the beginning of 9th grade afraid to speak but as the year goes by, they are ready to stand up and share their ideas.
One of the things that makes me proud of my chapter is that when a student asks a question for the first time, the student leadership says, “That’s amazing! Great job!” They congratulate her. They encourage each other. Those are the memories that really stand out for me—the students who are shy at the beginning. The students who speak out, who get on the bus on the way home from a convention and say, “Yay! I spoke out for the first time!”

The peer group strength is one of the best things about JSA. Students get so much encouragement from their colleagues.

How does it feel when you know you’ve changed a student’s life?

As a teacher, we always want to change a student’s life for the better. To be able to do so is an amazing thing.

I’ve had several students who chose to pursue fields related to politics. Everything is political, everything is affected by public policy in some way. Whether it’s an issue like healthcare or diabetes or soda [tax], or you’re worried about the environment—whatever it is, it’s through political action that you can make change happen.
JSA helps students focus on the power they have in political action. Many of our students are going into STEM fields right now, then they circle back to me and say, “You know, when I was in your class and JSA, I learned to debate and make a difference.”

We change students’ lives, though we sometimes don’t know for 10 or 15 years.

What’s it like being a JSA parent?

My daughter was a JSAer and had an amazingly wonderful experience. As she became more and more involved with JSA, students would meet at my house to talk about the things they wanted to debate.

I saw her enthusiasm, and the enthusiasm of her friends. She was how I originally got involved; I went to a convention as a chaperone. I just thought it was a fantastic program. I still do.

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