Conn. is letting students spend COVID relief money. How's it work? How much do they get?

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For Griswold High School senior Sidney Hart, students getting a chance to plan and vote on how they want federal recovery funds spent on their school shows that the state wants a diversity of voices in decision-making.

“It’s hard to see what students want if they don’t have that power to explain what they want,” said Hart, who is also the high school’s student representative for the Griswold Board of Education.

Griswold is one of 80 Connecticut schools across 45 districts participating in the state’s Voice4Change program, which lets students submit plans on how to spend $20,000 in American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief on their schools.

The state has put aside $1.5 million for the program.

Students will develop their plans, which can focus on learning, mental health, health and safety, technology and family or community communications, from now until Jan. 9. The state will then determine each plan's eligibility, and students will vote for the plan they want on March 11.

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Once a plan is decided, students, staff and the Connecticut State Department of Education will work together to get the plan enacted.

“Often times, we plan events that we think are important to kids,” said Donald Concascia, principal at Norwich Technical High School, which is also participating in the program. “Here’s a chance for the kids to tell us what’s important for the kids.”

Concascia said he expects his students to gravitate toward the communication and mental health aspects for their plans, from what he’s heard from students over the year.

“Quite often we don’t have the money to do some of the things we want to do,” Concasia said. “Here’s a chance for them to take the lead on this.”

The Norwich principal said he expects to have two or three finished proposals by January.

Plainfield High School Principal Chris Bitgood said he hopes that this will encourage schools to keep working with students on a regular basis.

“Young people need to have a voice and a choice to power their own education,” he said, adding that the educational value of the experience is "massive."

The concept of hearing plans and collaborating with students isn’t unusual to Bitgood, as Plainfield High School has had its own Student Advisory Council since 2014, which the district started it as a way to improve the school from the inside out “and give kids ownership in their schools.”

“The research and practice on this is not a new kind of initiative for schools,” Bitgood said. “It’s an older way to listen to kids and make schools a better place for everybody.”

Back in Griswold, Hart said that she wants to focus her plan on developing extracurricular activities at her school, as a lot of them aren’t funded by the schools, and she wants to see more involvement in those programs.

“It can be really difficult for students to join groups when they know they have to do a lot of fundraising for that specific group, when they just want to join the extracurricular activity to have fun,” Hart said.

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With whichever plan is picked by the student body, Hart said she wants to see a positive impact on it for Griswold High School, as attendance numbers have been dropping, with more students in Griswold attending the tech schools or the Vocational Agricultural program at Killingly High School.

“I think they’re awesome, but I want students to see how many opportunities and experiences they can have at Griswold High School, particularly students that come straight from Griswold Middle School,” Hart said.

This article originally appeared on The Bulletin: Students at Griswold, Plainfield, and Norwich schools spend ARP funds

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