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Patricia Estabrook from Belfast is the founding co-director of The Game Loft and I Know ME.
Of all the natural resources we value in Maine, none are more important than our youth. The young people of today will be our future doctors, teachers, lawyers, congressional leaders, businessmen and visionaries.
The people of Maine are known for their common sense, persistence and character. I hope that one of our young people will become the world leader who will guide us out of the struggles and conflicts of today. Who will be that expert if our young people fail to meet the challenges of the Maine workforce and society? Who will be there for us if our youth do not meet the challenges of Maine’s future?
Ask any preschooler what he wants to be when he grows up and all will say they want to be teachers, doctors, nurses or astronauts, all worthy careers, all of which require higher education, dedication and perseverance. Yet too few high school students in rural Maine pursue post-secondary education and training, and less than 32% of Maine residents aged 25 and over have a bachelor’s degree.
So how do we help young people develop the skills and attitudes necessary to achieve their aspirations? Numerous studies have shown that young people who are mentored consistently and over the long term are more successful than those without mentor support.
Mentors provide structure and insight to help young people shape and elevate their aspirations and find the resources to help them achieve these goals. While sowing the seeds of success is important, it is not enough. Mentoring nurtures young people and helps them find direction and resilience. In addition, nearly 121,000 adults in Maine – about 11% of the adult population – have started post-secondary education but have not graduated or certified.
Preserving and enriching the natural resource of our youth is the challenge that was taken up by the Lerner Foundation in 2016. The Lerner Foundation has donated more than $ 8 million in order to enhance the aspirations of students in Maine.
The Game Loft created the I Know ME program that works with students in Grades 7 to 12 to elevate their aspirations through healthy relationships, mentoring, field trips and a six-year exploration of the state. from Maine. Over six years, students learn about the people, places, geography, geology, economics, history, challenges and potential of their state. They also focus on self-knowledge that will help them set lofty goals and achieve high standards of academic and behavioral achievement.
The University of Southern Maine’s Data Innovation Project has evaluated all six aspirations incubator programs since its inception. Here are some of their findings over the first three years and a sample of 250 students: 93% said the program helped them feel connected to their community. Over 70 percent showed positive growth in learning and academic engagement, 95 percent said the program helped them discover new places and accept people different from them, and 70 percent said one hundred reported greater resilience. The project also found that 99% of grade 8 students in the programs believe they will finish high school and 88% believe they will graduate from post-secondary while 93% said the program helped them feel connected to the community.
When “Timmy” joined the I Know ME program three years ago, he was afraid of traveling far from home or speaking with adults. Recently he said: âI love to travel and meet new people. When I become a meteorologist, I could be stationed anywhere in the world, but I still want to come home to Maine.
Our lives and our future depend on young people in Maine like “Timmy”. Raising and sustaining their aspirations will pay huge dividends in the future of our state.