ENFIELD, CT — Connecticut high school students will get a say in how $1.5 million in federal aid is spent under a student engagement program announced Wednesday by Gov. Ned Lamont and education officials.
During a midday roundtable discussion at Enfield’s CREC Civic Leadership High School, the administration called the “Voice4Change” program a first-of-its-kind initiative. All told, 77 Connecticut high schools will participate in the campaign, which will allow students to suggest and vote on proposals to invest money from the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief Fund.
“This is an incredibly unique time in education because we actually have additional resources,” Lamont told a panel of students in the school’s auditorium. “It allows us to be a little more experimental, try some new ideas. We’re going to get the best ideas by listening to the people who are directly impacted.”
Under the program, students will submit their proposals to spend $20,000 in their schools. The Education Department will screen the plans and high school students will vote on them next year on March 11.
A group of students from CREC and Staples High School in Westport offered some earlier ideas to the governor and school administrators during Wednesday’s roundtable discussion. They included expanding student community outreach programs and offering more sports and extracurricular activities to students.
In particular the students seemed interested in ideas to give high school age kids a way to relieve stress or provide a safe space to talk about the difficulties of a turbulent time made tougher by the ongoing pandemic.
“If we could figure out a program to where kids our age forget — just at that moment in time forget all the stress they’ve been through and have gone through or are currently going through. Maybe team building or some time off class,” said Naeem Brown, a junior at CREC from Bloomfield.
Natalie Bandura, a Westport senior at Staples High School, said she believed the program would motivate students to make their voices heard and take ownership of their school communities.
“When we’re given that forum to take our own ideas and act with them — like with this initiative we can take our vision and have a voice to create something that we can rally behind,” Bandura said. “It’s not administrators telling us this will be good for us, oftentimes it is and that works great too, but this is us, saying this is where we want to go as a school, as a community.”
Education Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker encouraged the students to develop their ideas with their peers.
“There’s nothing off the table here. Be as creative as you can be, as innovative as you can be. It is yours to really address how you see fit,” Russell-Tucker said. “Ultimately we’re going to put the winning ideas to life. Right? That’s where the funding comes in. So go at it.”
During the event, Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, applauded the initiative as a tool to encourage civic engagement among young people.
“As you come up with ideas and programs and proposals and you go and talk to your fellow students and you try and win them over so that your proposal can win, it will get you excited about the whole democratic process and voting. As you realize it’s a microcosm of what we’re doing out here throughout the state of Connecticut,” Kissel said.