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  • Jennifer Leeper

Student Voices

Updated: Oct 11, 2020

Back in June, I came up with the idea to meet with high school and college students in Fairfield to talk about the issues that matter most to them. I wanted to understand their perspective and make sure that they had a seat at the table so that I could ensure I was a responsible steward of their future. With this in mind, I began holding weekly meetings to hear from ‘student voices’. We held meaningful conversations about opportunity through a gendered lens, revitalizing our economy, education, mental health, gun violence prevention, police reform, and the environment. These conversations gave me so much to think about, and reminded me how much we can learn from our young people.

After engaging in these important conversations, we identified four policy priorities: education, mental health, gun violence prevention, and the environment. We formed multigenerational policy committees with both issue-area experts and young people, and we began working to identify potential solutions to the problems we face. I am thrilled to share below the final recommendations from each committee.

Education Policy Committee:

The majority of the Education Policy Committee’s discussions centered on how to increase equity in our school systems. After numerous discussions about the most effective ways Connecticut could accomplish this goal, the EPC drafted a proposal to allow a town to earn credits toward its 8-30g goals for the Open Choice students it accepts. 8-30g mandates that at least 10% of housing stock in a town must be deeded as ‘affordable’. Unfortunately, many towns across Connecticut have yet to make even 3% of their housing stock affordable. 8-30g was passed with the intention of breaking down exclusionary zoning and to better provide “diversity and equal opportunity in education, civil infrastructure, quality of life, and more in Connecticut.” Under the Education Policy Committee’s proposal, towns can work towards both integrating its schools and its 8-30g requirement by increasing the number of Open Choice students in their school district. This proposal provides towns with an additional avenue to reach its 8-30g requirement that also works toward the fundamental goals of 8-30g, which is to integrate our communities and ensure children have access to high quality schools.

Education Policy Committee Members: Aidan Karnal (Chair), Christina Convertito (Vice-Chair), Finn Johnston, Jennifer Jacobsen, Jenn Maxon Kennely, Peter Hinkle, Sophia Mughal, Caroline DelAngelo (Supervisor), and Jennifer Leeper

Gun Violence Prevention Policy Committee:

In its initial meetings Gun Violence Prevention Policy committee members discussed their own fears about gun violence in our schools, as well as the very real problems associated with gun violence in cases of domestic violence and in cities across CT. At the core of all of these conversations was the understanding that acts of senseless gun violence can be prevented by limiting access to guns. Accordingly, the Gun Violence Prevention Policy Committee proposed a package of legislation focused on keeping guns out of the “wrong hands”.

This package includes bans on ‘junk guns’ and ‘Saturday Night Specials’ which are often used by criminals because they are easily concealable, inexpensive, and expendable enough to be thrown out after first use. Additionally, the GVP policy committee recommended that Connecticut implement Threat Assessment Programs in our schools to ensure professionals are ready to intervene at the earliest signs of concerning behavior, and ensure these individuals are directed toward treatment. The Department of Education has identified Threat Assessment Programs as the most effective form of gun violence prevention as it substantially reduces the likelihood of students carrying out acts of violence in schools. Finally, the GVP policy committee recommended following the lead of California, Illinois, Hawaii, and Florida to raise the minimum age of purchase for long guns to 21 in order to dramatically reduce the number of firearms offenses, suicides, and homicides in our State.

Gun Violence Prevention Policy Committee Members: Eli Moyse (Chair), Alexandra Blitzer, Chris Powell, Ewan Dignon, Lori Charlton, Molly Spisak, Rachel Logue, Tara Donnelly Gottlieb, Caroline DelAngelo (Supervisor), and Jennifer Leeper

Mental Health Policy Committee:

The Mental Health Policy Committee engaged in many discussions about the struggles young people face with mental health even before the added stress of the pandemic and how the State can work to make mental health resources more accessible. Through these discussions, the MHPC determined that Connecticut could benefit from a concerted effort to reduce both stigma around mental illness and to inform students about mental health services and self care.

This proposed Mental Health Public Relations Campaign will partner with 211, a health and human service referral program in Connecticut, to improve the infrastructure of 211’s mental health platform, ensure there is a consistent funding for 211, and subsequently create and implement a bold campaign to inform the public about the services it provides. Increasing the State’s funding for 211 will allow the program to add mental health menu options to its phone services, which will provide callers with easier access to the services they need. At the moment, 211 is underutilized. The proposed Mental Health Public Relations Campaign will work to increase awareness about 211’s mental health services among adolescents through a targeted social media campaign. Initiatives can only be impactful if people are utilizing them. There are mental health services available this 211 marketing initiative is to ensure that people who need them know where and how to access them.

Mental Health Policy Committee Members: Rachel Logue (Chair), Amy Jennings (Vice-Chair), Amy Cawman, Carolyn Wagenseller, Dana Ericson, Margaret Weeks Horton, Molly Baker (Supervisor), and Jennifer Leeper

Environmental Policy Committee:

Over the course of two months the Environmental Policy Committee held many meaningful conversations about our climate change crisis. Through these discussions, the EPC determined that Connecticut must incentivize “green actions” and strengthen the State’s overall sustainability. At present, the majority of Connecticut's efforts to stem the tide of climate change are focused on changing consumer behavior. In order to make meaningful, long-term change, we need to expand the green energy sector. When considering how to do so in Connecticut, the EPC examined how neighboring states are addressing this issue. After conducting research it became clear that New Jersey has the most comprehensive and aggressive climate change regulations in place. Accordingly, the Environmental Policy Committee proposed Connecticut partner with the State of New Jersey and their Energy Master Plan. New Jersey created this plan with the intention of putting the state on the path towards 100% clean energy by the year 2050, and it is the EPC’s hope that Connecticut can do the same. Read more about New Jersey’s Energy Master Plan here.

In line with NJ’s Energy Master Plan, the EPC proposed Connecticut create a Workforce Needs Assessment. This assessment will outline long term employment projections within the clean energy field and work closely with the CT Technical High School System as well as colleges to ensure they are preparing workers for these future jobs. Forty-five percent of jobs in the green energy sector do not require more than a high school diploma. By expanding students’ opportunities for vocational training in the green energy sector we will diversify and grow our economy. The Assessment will identify jobs within the clean energy industry that require similar skill sets as jobs in the fossil fuel industry to transition workers to the jobs of the future and minimize employment impacts.

Lastly, the State should create a student loan forgiveness program for CT college graduates who go into green jobs and stay in the sector for 5+ years. This serves to incentive CT’s graduates both to stay and work in CT and also into jobs in the green energy sector.

Environmental Policy Committee Members: Molly Spisak (Chair), Natalie Kelchner (Vice-Chair), Will Hinkle, Peter Hinkle, Allie Burt, Ewan Dignon, Rabab Hussain Syed, Molly Baker (Supervisor), and Jennifer Leeper

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