Connecticut has taken a national lead in empowering youth voices.
Now Staples has taken a lead in making it happen.
This morning, the high school welcomed Governor Ned Lamont, Congressman Jim Himes and State Senator Will Haskell. They, and 2 members of the state Department of Education, outlined a new $1.5 million program — part of the national American Rescue Plan — that allocates $20,000 to 85 schools. Current students propose ideas for their building, then vote on which one to implement.
Then the adults sat back and listened, to a dozen student ideas.
Himes noted that while the federal government works “at scale” — allocating $6 trillion in COVID relief — it can’t understand the needs of individual communities. That’s where the “Voice4Change” program comes in.
It was an intriguing morning. Lamont, Himes and Haskell addressed the Staples students as intelligent, involved people. They did not talk down or pander; they did not try to score political points, often pointing out the bipartisan nature of COVID relief funds. They listened and took notes.
Lamont did give props to Connecticut as “an entrepreneur factory.” Why, he wondered, can’t some entrepreneurial ideas come from students?
“I’m all ears,” he said.
Among the ideas: strengthened school security, including ID cards for student access to the building, and metal detectors; installing solar panels in the parking lot, as at Fairfield Warde High; and enhanced ties between Staples and neighboring, less affluent school districts.
Proposals are due to the state Department of Education by January 9. Each school will have its own ballot, for voting on March 11.
First Selectwoman Jen Tooker offered to mentor students who have ideas. Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice challenged them to find sources to match the $20,000.
Lamont had to leave for another engagement. But Himes, Haskell, the state Education reps, and town officials stuck around to chat.
It was a tossup who was more inspired: the students, or them.