NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) – Connecticut is the first state in the nation to let high school students vote on improvements to their own schools. Today, the state education commissioner toured a New Haven school that is already changing for the better.

In one classroom, Common Ground High School students are learning professional computer skills. That class only exists because, last year, student Asia Vilsaint wrote a proposal to get classes at Common Ground that help students get professional certificates.

“So they know they don’t have to wait until college to focus on their future,” Vilsaint said. “They can start right now because it’s really good to start early.”

Vilsaint submitted that as part of the state’s Voice4Change program. That started when the education commissioner had some Covid relief money to spend.

“So, we decided to make this a statewide initiative for high school students to be able to tell us how we can invest over a million dollars in federal funding that came into the state for recovery relief,” said State Education Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker.

Students voted for the ideas they liked. Vilsaint’s certificate program is already showing results.

Current Common Ground senior Diana Isodoro came up with another proposal for using that money. She thought, with all the stress of dealing with the Covid pandemic, wouldn’t it be nice for students to have a quiet place to gather their thoughts? She calls it the quiet corner.

“They were struggling trying to do their work, trying to focus,” Isodoro said. “I guess something affected them at home or wherever they were.”

The school is working on creating those spaces now and expanding the gym’s flag collection.

“One thing we’re doing with Voice4Change funding: We put in an order yesterday for 24 additional flags that represent who our community is right now,” explained Joel Tolman, the school’s Director of Community Impact & Engagement.

That is because Voice4Change is about the school community deciding how it wants to be represented.