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State initiative lets high school students weigh in on how to spend COVID relief funding

Students in participating high schools were required to submit proposals to the state outlining how they would spend up to $20,000 in their schools.

BRISTOL, Conn. — The Connecticut State Department of Education is giving high school students the chance to decide how more than $1.5 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds should be spent on schools across the state.

The initiative is called “Voice4Change,” a first-of-its-kind campaign with the goal of increasing student engagement by challenging students to think critically to solve real-world problems

On Wednesday, Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz and other state leaders dropped by Bristol Central High School to hear some ideas.

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“It was really cool. I did like all the ideas. I thought it was very well put for everybody,” said student Hailey Rosado.

“When we received the resources, we know we needed to give the money to schools for all kinds of reasons but we didn’t want to do this without you,” said Commissioner of the Connecticut State Department of Education Charlene Russell-Tucker.

Students in participating high schools were required to submit proposals to the state outlining how they would spend up to $20,000 in their schools.

A total of 201 proposals were received and thoroughly reviewed by staff from the Connecticut State Department of Education to ensure they meet federal rules for ARP ESSER investments, as well as alignment with the department’s state-level priorities. From those, 150 proposals from 54 high schools were deemed eligible.

Student proposals had the option of aligning with more than one state-level priority. As a result:

  • 71% (107) of the proposals address the social, emotional, and mental health of students and school staff;
  • 52% (78) of the proposals address learning acceleration, academic renewal, and student enrichment;
  • 38% (57) of the proposals address building safe and healthy schools;
  • 35% (53) of the proposals address family and community connections; 
  • and 17% (25) of the proposals address the strategic use of technology, staff development, and the digital divide.

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“We know that it was hard over the past two years to be in school, out of school, online learning, in-person learning, but you’re now back and you have to opportunity having gone through all that to come up with some great ideas,” said Bysiewicz.

At Bristol Central High, some proposals include community gardens, a digital art class, and increasing LGBTQ+ resources.

“It just goes to show you how capable students are. I don’t think we ever as adults give kids enough credit to what they can come up creatively,” said Principal Peter Wininger.

Each of the eligible high schools will get at least $20,000 to implement the winning proposal.

Students from participating high schools will vote on the proposals on Tuesday, March 29. The Connecticut State Department of Education will announce the winners in early April and begin working with districts to disperse funds and bring the proposals to life.

More information about the initiative and a full list of the proposals can be found online.

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Angelo Bavaro is an anchor and reporter at FOX61 News. He can be reached at abavaro@fox61.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. 

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