Helping young people navigate the ‘Real World’

BDM Maine Business | By Russ Van Arsdale

We live in a complicated, fast-changing world, and many young people don’t feel very well prepared for it once they’ve finished school. Today’s column examines a couple of resources where people in their teens and 20s can get some useful information.

The first is an organization set up by a former teacher of at-risk students in southern Maine. Navigating the Real World, or NtRW, is a nonprofit organization for young people and their parents, and its touchstones are practical information and advice.

Tom Tracy, founder and executive director of NtRW, contends that schools do a better job of preparing students for the next level of school than for the world that awaits them as graduates.

“We’re pretty ignorant about helping our kids get through these years,” Tracy told me last week. He cites some troubling results obtained through testing in schools as proof. Tracy points to a study of 13 Maine high schools in which 76 percent of the juniors who took math and writing tests failed the math portion.

While it may be easy to blame the schools, Tracy says the solution is to help young people by providing them with sound advice and information, which often is best received when it comes from their peers.

The NtRW website ( contains help on a number of topics, from study habits to job interviews to social pressures. Advice is presented in the form of interviews or narratives recorded on video; most are made by young people who direct their comments at others in their age group.

The organizers of NtRW also distribute print versions of their advice to high schools across the state. A tabloid for middle-schoolers is in the works, and there’s a publication called The Maine Parents’ Guide to Middle School, High School and Beyond. It includes interviews with parents on their experiences and tips that might be useful to others.

Tracy says NtRW leaders have held two workshops on improving students’ writing, and more are being planned. He also would like to tackle cross-curriculum learning and math issues in later conferences.

Another source of help for young people comes from Maine’s credit unions, which have banded together in an effort called Young & Free Maine ( to offer free checking accounts, debit and check cards and other financial products. They’re aimed at 18-to-25 year-olds, who seem to like the no-charge aspect of the services. There’s even a $10 iTunes gift card for new account holders.

The Young & Free Maine website also includes video clips with financial and other advice, this time from a designated “spokester.” Entries for the spokester job are being accepted until April 20, with a new winner selected to represent Maine’s credit unions for a year.

Our young people need solid information to make their way safely and securely. We recommend these paths as starting places.

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