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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

On Track Academy: For Jasper Knowlton, quiet leadership is making an impact on his school, community

Jasper Knowlton, who entered On Track Academy as a junior, is a student adviser for the Spokane School Board.
By Greg Mason For The Spokesman-Reivew

When On Track Academy needed a student to go above and beyond for the school, Jasper Knowlton’s name often rose to top of his teachers’ lists.

More recently, Knowlton was among the students who spoke to a panel of former area high school principals during On Track’s accreditation process, teacher Jeremy Lenhartzen said. Knowlton is the president of On Track’s Gay-Straight Alliance Club and designed the T-shirts for his senior class retreat.

Knowlton also sits on the Spokane School Board as a student adviser, informing the board on what’s happening at his school and others across the district.

“He’s kind of got his fingers in all of these different areas of the school,” teacher Brita Gulseth said, “but he would never be the one to tell you about it unless you asked him.”

Knowlton, 18, said he got involved with the school board to directly advocate for On Track and bring more awareness to what the school does. Other priority issues for him include mental health as well as diversity and inclusivity in education, topics he broached with state representatives during a trip to Olympia in January alongside other Spokane high school students.

Knowlton, who has ADHD and autism, said he struggled with his mental health growing up. Knowlton was bullied in middle school for being queer, he said. Around that same time, Knowlton entered counseling when his father died by suicide, he said.

“There were a lot of times where I just felt so different from the other kids and I felt really alone, and I didn’t really understand why,” Knowlton said. “When I found out that I had autism and ADHD, it really helped me to understand that my brain was different from other people’s. It wasn’t a moral failure that I couldn’t do math or complete my assignments on time. It didn’t mean there was anything wrong with me. It just meant that I needed more help.”

Knowlton entered On Track Academy in 11th grade, having attended Innovation High School as a freshman virtually because of COVID-19 and North Central High School as a sophomore. While he has not had an opportunity to apply for college yet, Knowlton said he would like to study graphic design.

“After a while of having to be strong and having to be resilient, I think I realized that I need to advocate for myself and I need to fight for myself,” he said. “I definitely struggled for a long time after that, but I feel like since I’ve been to On Track my junior and senior year, I feel like I’m really seen here and people really celebrate me and celebrate my differences instead of bullying me for them. That helps me feel more confident and (stronger) in being myself.”

Lenhartzen said he’s watched Knowlton come out of his shell and gain more confidence in his abilities during his time at On Track.

“Some of the adversity Jasper has struggled with in life has caused him to grow up a little quicker and be a little more mature than some of his peers,” Lenhartzen said.

“I’d like to sit back and take all the credit for Jasper being awesome and amazing, but really, it was already there. He already had a lot of the skills. It was just giving him a place to feel safe and heard.”

As president of On Track’s GSA Club, Knowlton facilitated weekly events for members to blow off steam and also helped GSA students sign up for Eastern Washington University’s special Lavender Graduation, said teacher Brita Gulseth, the GSA adviser. Knowlton was also heavily involved in On Track’s Earth Day tree giveaway “from start to finish,” she said.

“He seems genuinely interested in what other students have to say. That kind of empathy is unique to him,” Gulseth said. “He’s just been this great advocate representing the student body. … He’s like a quiet leader. He leads from the back, which, to me, looks like true leadership.”