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Deer Isle, Isle au Haut and Stonington, Maine.
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by Jessica Brophy
Ready by 21 was founded under the umbrella of Sedgwick-based Healthy Peninsula more than a year ago in an effort to coordinate and improve efforts supporting youth development.
What began with a gathering of the public with an idea of supporting children from “cradle to career” has become an organization with a steering committee and three workgroups coordinating several programs across three communities.
When community members involved with Ready by 21 met in December of 2011, the 40 people present split into age-specific groups to discuss the needs and potential strategies to address the needs of those age groups.
The meeting led to the establishment of age-specific work groups within the larger program of Ready by 21, which focuses on a whole-community, whole-child approach to producing healthy, educated and engaged adults.
“We used the big community forums to get broad input around goals and opportunities,” said Amy Vaughn, director of Healthy Peninsula, the parent organization of Ready by 21. The steering committee still meets every month to coordinate the work group’s individual efforts, but the individual groups enact strategies and plans specific to the needs of those students.
The idea is coordinating big goals—such as children and youth succeed in school, are ready for work, make healthy choices, have positive relationships with peers, adults and the wider community and contribute to their community—with different approaches depending on age and needs. Working closely with the elementary schools on the island and in Sedgwick, as well as the Deer Isle-Stonington high school, is also important.
“What I like is that it’s a fast-moving group,” said Becca Emerson, who is on the Ready by 21 steering committee. “It’s well thought-out, and we’re not reinventing the wheel. We’re working with resources and programs already happening.”
Skip Greenlaw has worked closely with the birth-age 5 work group, focused on increasing “school readiness” for young children in Deer Isle, Stonington and Sedgwick. Greenlaw said Island dentist Wendy Alpaugh and Sedgwick Elementary School principal Don Buckingham have worked closely with several other community members to help improve school readiness.
Toward that end, an Early Childhood Health Fair was held at the end of March, where children 18 months to 5 years old were invited to come to the Island Medical Center for free dental, developmental, hearing and vision screenings—along with face-painting and snacks. The goal was to help identify the problems that might prevent children from starting school on the right foot.
Twenty-three children attended that fair, said Greenlaw. Children who needed extra services were referred to Child and Development Services.
“We need to get children as ready for kindergarten as we can,” said Greenlaw.
One of the other goals of the group is to consider a program like Educare, a Waterville-based program that works with young children and their parents to increase school-readiness and reduce unnecessary special education costs, according to Educare Central Maine’s website.
Emerson chairs the K-6 working group. While the group’s primary goal is to make sure very child has access to food, good sleep and is secure, the secondary goal is to have every student reading, writing and performing math at grade level.
Emerson admits the group hasn’t quite figured out how to meet the first goal—though it may include starting a “backpack” program where food is sent home over the weekend with kids who might not have access to nutritious food—the second goal is a little easier to work toward.
The work group launched a summer reading and math program in Sedgwick and on the Island for students K-8. Each student received a backpack that includes a colorful July and August calendar and a packet of stickers that students can use to mark the days they read or work on a math activity. Participating students will be recognized at an all-school assembly.
One of the longer-term goals of the work group is to reinstate the Big Brother/Big Sister program or another mentor program. “Time and time we’ve heard that kids need to have a mentor, an adult who is engaged with them,” said Emerson.
Kyra Alex spearheads the “Emerging Adulthood” workgroup, which focuses on preparing students from 10th grade to age 21 for the rigors of adulthood, whether that adulthood includes college or the workforce.
“The goal is to achieve a healthy day to day life,” said Alex. “If we can encourage kids to make one good choice every day, that’s amazing.” Toward that effort, the “Real World 101” classes give students skills and insights into everything from online safety, how to change a tire, how to make a burrito and more.
Ready by 21 has sponsored a job shadow program, run in conjunction with the high school, which has run for two years now and has been successful at connecting students to learning about potential field of work.
It’s important to make sure that students know that they’re valuable,” said Alex. “Especially students who decide the [high school diploma] system isn’t for them.”
“There is still ample work to be done, said Vaughn. A work group needs to be formed to address the needs of students in grades seven through 10. Some of the groups are still figuring out how to make best use of already existing or forming programs and available resources.
“This is about empowering young people to live healthy, productive, whole lives,” said Vaughn. “Not proscribing a certain path. We want kids to have the skills to make it whatever they decide to do.”
One of the benefits of having different work groups with different projects, said Vaughn, is that there are many different ways to get involved, from teaching a single “Real World 101” class to a specific project like the Children’s Health Fair or getting involved with a work group.
For more information about Ready by 21, contact Amy Vaughn at 359-2441 or email email@example.com.