The city of Malden is planning to use some of its federal pandemic recovery funding to give $1,000 scholarships to every high school graduate this year who is heading to college.
Mayor Gary Christenson said in a telephone interview that students in the Class of 2022 have faced a daunting challenge during the COVID-19 pandemic during the past two years — and they now face rising college costs.
“We want to show them that we appreciate all that they have had to deal with during their time in high school. From being in school to being out of school, from having to wear a mask to not having to wear a mask, from having to be tested to not having to be tested — it was stressful for them and for their families,” Christenson said.
At the same time, he said, “We were surprised to learn in some recent announcements that despite the pandemic, tuition and fees at higher education schools were still increasing.”
Christenson, who drew loud cheers when he announced the program to students at Malden High School Tuesday, said he wasn’t aware of any other communities doing similar programs.
“Words can’t really describe the experience our students have had over the past several years and that’s not what is supposed to happen when you’re in high school,” he said. “This, we thought, would help as they move forward in life.”
The money will come from the $45.7 million in funds flowing to the city through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. The federal law is providing $1.9 trillion in funds nationwide to help the country recover from the public health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, including $130.2 billion for local governments.
The one-time Malden scholarship program is expected to cost the city about $500,000, said Christenson. The program is available to any Malden resident who graduates from high school and is headed for college, not just Malden High graduates.
Christenson said Malden officials believed the scholarships were an allowable use of the funds under the federal law.
The funding was intended “to help cities and towns like ours to recover from the pandemic,” said Christenson. “Who could be better [to grant money to] than our students needing help to recover from what they just went through during their most formative years in high school?” Christenson asked, noting that students’ families, too, needed help, with many people having lost their jobs and only now reintegrating into the workforce.
The mayor’s spokesman Ron Cochran said the rest of the ARPA funds are “slowly but surely” being used by the city.
So far, projects include installing new air handling systems in the city’s public schools, rapidly replacing lead water lines in areas with the highest of concentration of children, and conducting festivals to reintroduce people to the downtown, he said. There’s ”so much more coming,” he said.
Deb Gesualdo, president of the Malden Education Association, an affiliate of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, said the ARPA funds should not just be used for the collegebound.
“It’s great to help out graduating seniors who are going off to college, but we believe that the money should be used for the good of all students and not just those who are attending college,” said Gesualdo in a telephone interview. “There’s seniors who are not going to go to a two- or four-year college; there’s many who will go off to trade schools, and trade schools tend to be very expensive.”
ARPA funds, she said, should also be used to maintain staff in the schools.
“We think that money should be used to do things, definitely, like give scholarships to all students who are furthering their education, but also to make sure that there’s enough staff in our schools to benefit the students who are still in school,” Gesualdo said.
Malden High School students staged a walkout in mid-May to protest non-renewal notices sent to some staff.