Using ESSER Funds to Elevate Student Voice

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As the school year is about to begin and students across the country anticipate a fresh start, full of new experiences, knowledge, skills and friends, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) is proud to elevate stories of states celebrating student agency and voice year-round.

Voice4Change, a statewide competition in Connecticut, provided high school students with an opportunity to use their voices to influence how some Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) state set-aside funds would be spent. Students submitted more than 200 proposals aligned to five strategic priorities: 1) learning acceleration, academic renewal and student enrichment; 2) family and community connections; 3) student and staff wellbeing; 4) strategic use of technology and 5) safe and healthy schools. A social studies teacher helped drive more than 15 proposals from Danbury High School in Danbury, Connecticut, the most from any high school.   

With support from the state’s ESSER set-aside fund, the Connecticut State Department of Education invested $1.5 million in 59 student-initiated projects across 54 high schools, impacting nearly 50,000 students. Thanks to Voice4Change, Danbury High School replaced malfunctioning water fountains and improved faculty spaces throughout the school to support student and educator wellbeing. Additionally, thousands of participating high school students gained valuable advocacy and practical skills they are now leveraging to continue to improve their local communities.

At CCSSO’s 2023 Legislative Conference in March, former students Chapal Bhavsar and Viviana Flores, who graduated from Danbury High School in 2022, and their teacher, Heather Lorenz, shared the impact of the Voice4Change initiative and illustrated how the state is using ESSER relief funding to elevate student voices.

 I think the most important skill that I learned from the Voice4Change experience was advocacy. … If you want to be out there and be active in the community, you have to know how to stand up for yourself.” – Chapal Bhavsar, former student, Danbury High School


 The Voice4Change initiative really empowered me by providing an opportunity to act. I'd say that throughout my entire high school career, I always had thoughts and ideas on what could be better at Danbury High School, but there was never really a direct, tangible opportunity for me to speak on issues that were important to me, and let alone take steps towards implementing possible solutions.” – Viviana Flores, former student, Danbury High School


“Go for it! It is such a great way to get our students’ voice out there. In the end, that's what we're all doing this for, right?” Heather Lorenz, social studies teacher, Danbury High School, on what advice she would give to state leaders hoping to create a similar initiative for students.

Watch the full video recording here, and read more about how states are using ESSER funds to support a host of pandemic recovery efforts including academic recovery, student and staff wellbeing and recruitment and retention of educators by visiting

Featured Resources from the Connecticut State Department of Education



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