QMC Proposal Wins in Statewide Voice4Change Program
A proposal to combat food insecurity in northeastern Connecticut has earned EASTCONN’s Quinebaug Middle College magnet school a spot among the top grant winners in the state’s groundbreaking Voice4Change program.
“Building Sustainable Food Systems in Schools Impacted by Food Insecurities in Northeastern Connecticut,” a plan submitted by the Community Garden/Nature Trail service learning group, will allow students to build sustainable garden systems around the QMC campus.
“Finding out that it was one of the top-rated projects so far at a lot of schools: It made me really happy, because this is something I've been looking forward to doing for a while now,” said Marc Schmidt, a sophomore from Hampton who attends QMC.
In 2021, the Connecticut State Department of Education (CDSE) announced the Voice4Change grant program, inviting students across the state to submit ideas for spending up to $20,000 in American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) funds.
Across the state, 80 schools from 45 districts participated. QMC’s proposal, which received $16,000 in funding, was one of only 59 selected. Award winners were announced on April 8 of this year.
The proposal is a partnership between QMC and GROW Windham, a grassroots organization that works toward strengthening local food systems through education, community engagement and hands-on planting and harvesting.
Last month, QMC physical science teacher Eugene Vostinek, who serves as a faculty advisor for the service learning group, pointed out a hydroponic system supplied by GROW Windham that the class uses for growing lettuce.
“The grant money that we’re going to get will supply more of these for us to use around the school and to grow not just the lettuces,” Vostinek said. “We’ve harvested once already, and we’ve had a few that didn’t come back. But the light green one: [QMC student] Nevaeh [Ivory] grew from seed.”
Ivory said she knew nothing about growing vegetables before joining the Community Garden/Nature Trail service learning group at QMC.
“I researched it when I got into the nature club, because I knew this is what I wanted to do,” Ivory said. “Honestly, watching stuff grow is the best part, seeing how big it gets is really cool to me.”
QMC student Meshayla Lewis, who was building a small growing system using a plastic bucket and some PVC piping, said working on the project had taught her valuable skills that she’ll use beyond the classroom.
“You never know: in the real world, something could happen and you might have to grow plants outside your house,” Lewis said. “It’s better to learn now.”
QMC’s proposal addresses all five of the criteria determined by the state for approval: learning acceleration; family and community connections; social-emotional and mental health; strategic use of technology; and building safe and healthy schools.
The plan is to build small hydroponic and stand-up gardens around the school and to create a multi-level, terraced garden on the outdoor grounds. Students in the service learning group have spent much of their time during the school year working in one of those three groups.
Some of the produce has already been cultivated and sent out to community members who are in need.
“We've already collected a good amount of lettuce from the hydroponic garden and we’ve sent that out,” said sophomore Matthew Bradley, who wrote the final proposal to the state. “So once we have everything built and our resources together, we're going to have a good amount going out for not only our school but other schools in northeastern Connecticut.”