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Future of the St. John Valley initiative luncheon

AGATHA, MainePassionate educators, community leaders and business people gathered at the Lakeview Restaurant Wednesday to brainstorm how to guide elementary school students into thinking about and pursuing career choices.

An initiative of the Maine College Circle, the luncheon was organized to promote the future of the St. John Valley by discussing ways to help younger students develop career aspirations early on and ways to get the community more involved in helping the youngsters pursue their aspirations.

More than 30 people heard Bob Stuart, director of the Maine College Circle, discuss how the organization awards about 500 $100 College Aspirations Scholarships each year third to sixth-graders in an effort to get them thinking about college or technical schools beyond high school and careers after that. The winners, who had to write essays about their aspirations, included 85 students from the St. John Valley last year.

Despite the amount of scholarships given in the Valley, Stuart noted a decline in the motivation of today’s youth and told the story about a young man who, in third grade, wanted to be an astronaut but ended up working at a fast food restaurant.

Stuart said that it is not up to schools to teach values, but that it is up to parents and community members to get involved and to keep youth motivated.

“It’s not the government that’s going to make things happen, I think it’s right here,” Stuart said. “It’s up to the communities to make things happen.”

After reading several scholarship submissions to the group at the luncheon, Stuart asked for ideas on how to keep the students engaged through their schooling and help them succeed by providing them with the appropriate tools. Early and continued parental involvement was among the list of tools to succeed that Stuart addressed.

“If we don’t engage the parent in fourth grade, it’s going to be really hard to engage the parent in 12th grade,” Stuart said.

Stuart read aloud submissions young students did for the scholarships and came to one where a student declared he wanted to be a bus driver because he liked children and that bus drivers have a very important job. The student even got the chance to interview a bus driver for the scholarship essay.

Having members of the community like that bus driver help to connect the pieces for youngsters is what participants of Wednesday’s luncheon hope to seek from other folks in the Valley.

“Connecting those pieces for those kids, it doesn’t matter if they change their goal along the way,” said Tammy Bernier, luncheon attendee representing Valley Rivers Middle School in Fort Kent. “It’s that we help them fit the pieces and connect them to those people.”

Bernier also suggested using the old scholarship essays to show the students in high school what they wanted to do when they grew up and to “remind them what they’ve done.”

Mentoring was the word of the day during the luncheon participants worked to figure out how to go about getting students in touch with the right people to help guide them through their studies and maintain their motivation and aspirations.

“Out of all of these community members, out of everybody in here, you’ve done something to get where you are, and your story matters,” Bernier said.

The Maine College Circle also came up with a decal to help spread the word. The sticker simply sports the letter “e,” which “represents effort (the primary key to success in the future) … education (another key to success) … and early aspirations.”

Organizers are seeking to have the “e” decals distributed to businesses, schools, individuals and organizations in an effort to get more members of the community supporting and getting involved with the Future of the St. John Valley initiative.

For more information, visit http://www.mainecollegecircle.org/ or the following website which is scheduled to go live within the week futuresjv.org

Anyone wishing to become a mentor, is urged to go online to bit.ly/futuresjv and fill out the form.

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