Senator Haskell, Governor Lamont, Congressman Himes Host Roundtable on 'Voice 4 Change' Program at Staples High School


Today, State Senator Will Haskell (D-Westport) returned to Staples High School, his alma matter, to lead a conversation about the Voice 4 Change program and promote student involvement in government. Senator Haskell, Governor Ned Lamont, U.S. Congressman Jim Himes, State Representative Jonathan Steinberg (D-Westport), Westport First Selectwoman Jennifer Tooker and officials from the Connecticut State Department of Education all participated in the conversation with nearly 100 Staples students. Students pitched a variety of ideas, including initiatives to improve mental health, install more solar panels, bolster school security and provide free menstrual products for students.

The roundtable centered on the Voice4Change Program, announced in November by Governor Lamont. This program empowers students at 77 high schools in Connecticut, including Staples High School, to propose a $20,000 project that would improve their school. In March, each school will vote on the proposals to select the winning idea. Funding comes from the American Rescue Plan, and Connecticut has made $1.5 million available for this first-in-the-nation concept. The proposals must be centered around at least one topic including learning acceleration and student enrichment; family and community connections; social, emotional and mental health; strategic use of technology; and/or building safe, healthy schools.

"When our coffers have a bit more money than we expected, most policymakers would think, 'we know how to spend this money. We know what students need. We know what's best.' Well, not always," said Sen. Haskell. "I'm so proud that here in Connecticut, we've decided to empower the folks who are closest to the classroom to make decisions about how we can improve public education. As we saw today, students know how to improve their school because they walk these hallways every day. It was so inspiring to hear just a few of the exceptional ideas that are sure to come out of this program. I graduated from Staples seven years ago, and to come back this morning in an effort to promote youth engagement, with the Governor and Congressman alongside me, was such an honor."

"This money comes out of the federal American Rescue Plan, which was part of the larger, substantial effort to address the COVID pandemic," said Congressman Himes. "A global pandemic can't be solved in Westport, Connecticut or the United States. It's a problem requiring a global response. The federal government, where I work, can understand larger scale, but what it can't do is address needs of a specific community. The diversity of the challenges in different communities are massive, and we can only effectively address such issues if the state and local communities are closely involved in deciding how money gets allocated. In the next few months, a small portion of funding from the American Rescue Plan Act will find its way to this community for students to decide how to put it to work."

"What we love about this program is it shows we really value what you have to say, your opinions and your ideas," said Governor Lamont to the students. "Think of what we can do across the country with these innovations and these ideas! This is also a way of saying you're never too young to be involved, and we always value what you have to say. Government can be a little old, so we need youth involvement! We need your point of view. You can get some of your best ideas by listening. Connecticut has always been an ideas factory for the greatest entrepreneurs, so why shouldn't we give students and communities such an opportunity to be heard?"

Monday's roundtable saw several Staples High School students discuss ideas and proposals they plan to submit to use the $20,000 in funding. Ideas mentioned included a "charity fair," where students could learn more about local organizations to volunteer and support; availability of free menstrual products for members of the school community; efforts to improve locker rooms for female athletes; focus on student mental health and therapy; and school safety. Several students cited recent school shootings in other states, and threats of potential violence in neighboring school communities, having prompted safety and security-related proposals.