Every Tuesday and Thursday, students from Deer Isle-Stonington High School can choose to use their free period to attend Real World 101, a program in which community volunteers teach basic skills and share experiences in the areas of food, shelter, transportation, work, money and relationships. Classes offered this semester include making chowder, balancing a checkbook, car-buying, phone skills for work and healthy relationships.
Real World 101 is one of the programs organized by the Deer Isle/Stonington/Sedgwick Ready by 21 project (RB21). RB21 is a program created by the Forum for Youth Investment, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization dedicated to helping communities across the country give their youth the tools to be ready for college, work and life.
“One thing we liked about (RB21) was that we wanted the island to be able to do what worked for them—this is not like a cookie-cutter program. It’s more of an approach and a set of tools for helping a community ensure that all its young people are ready for work, ready for life, and ready for college or other learning by early adulthood,” says Amy Vaughn, director of Healthy Peninsula, the program that administers RB21 in Deer Isle/Stonington/Sedgwick.
“The model of Ready by 21, one of the reasons it appealed to us, is it really draws on a strategy of collective impact,” Vaughn says. “It’s not coming up with one sure-fire, silver bullet program to address the needs, but it’s more about coordinating existing services and bringing all the key players together to the table to be working towards common goals.”
The program is still in its infancy. It began about six months ago, partly in response to the local Big Brothers, Big Sisters losing its funding. RB21 is guided by a steering committee and receives administrative support from one dedicated staff member and from Healthy Peninsula. It is funded by a Maine Community Foundation grant of $25,000 for three years and by Healthy Peninsula, which is a Healthy Maine Partnership program.
Ready by 21 is currently being offered at Deer Isle-Stonington High School for high school students, but the program is not just about the high school nor is it just for high school students.
“It is for the community, not for the school,” stresses Mike Benjamin, principal of Deer Isle-Stonington Elementary School and a member of the RB21 steering committee. “This is a great vehicle to bring the community into the school or the school into the community. If you think about the group that is affected mostly by school, it’s people with kids. Everybody else, if you don’t have kids, or they’re grown and gone away, or you’re retired or you’re young and you don’t have kids, there’s no connection to the school.”
While the program is focused on the high school level right now, the steering committee plans on expanding it so that its offerings range from birth to young adulthood. To meet that range of programming, RB21 will need to rely a variety of community members to share their life experiences and skills.
The community has been supportive so far, Benjamin says. The steering committee has had good community turnout at its community forums.
“What we’re trying to do is build kind of an insulated pipeline to make sure that it’s not just up to the school to prepare young people for life,” says Vaughn.
One of the important components of RB21 is that it’s not solely a college-preparatory program. It’s a ready-for-life program. That, says Sarah Wilson, a member of the RB21 steering committee and a junior at Deering-Stonington High School, makes the program more appealing for students and for members of the whole community.
“A lot of kids don’t go to college and don’t see any need to go to college,” Wilson says. “They’re not going to respond to anything that’s ‘This is going to help you go to college.'”¦ If we approach it as ‘We’re going to get you ready for whatever you want to do,’ then it’s going to appeal to a lot more people, we’ll be able to reach out to a lot more people, to the community as well, because a lot of the community haven’t actually gone to college and so they’re not going to be as supportive to a group that’s just getting kids ready for college. They’re going to be more open if it’s for everyone.”