BETHEL — For the second straight year, a SAD 44 elementary school has been named the Oxford County Champion for the Invest in ME Kindergarten project sponsored by the Maine Authority of Maine and the Alfond Scholarship Foundation.  Crescent Park School in Bethel will take the distinction over from the Woodstock School, the County Champion for Oxford County for the 2018-2019 school year.

The program rolled out last year as the first-in-the-state education initiative specifically designed to inspire Maine families with children entering kindergarten to start preparing for future higher education. As the program enters its second year, a total of thirty schools are participating as Program Champions, with 12 schools designated as new County Champions, and four Continuing Champions are expanding on initiatives from last year.
“We are pleased to continue our outreach to kindergarten students and their families about planning, preparing and affording education after high school. It truly isn’t too early to start planting the seed to build aspirations” said Martha Johnston, Director of Education for FAME.
Helping families build bright futures – that’s the mission behind the Invest in ME Kindergarten program,” said Colleen Quint, President and CEO of the Alfond Scholarship Foundation. “Last year’s kindergarteners represented the first big wave of Maine babies who were born in 2013 and automatically awarded the $500 Alfond Grant[1], and the same holds true for those children starting kindergarten this year. We hope Maine families and Maine educators think of kindergarten as the first step to higher education.”
How it works
Each spring, Maine’s elementary schools are invited to apply to participate in the Invest in ME Kindergarten program. This year thirty schools applied and sixteen were chosen as County Champions. All thirty of the schools will receive information from Invest in ME Kindergarten over the course of the school year.
During the year, each elementary school in the Invest in ME Kindergarten program receives tools and resources to help families and children aspire to and prepare for higher education. The County Champion Schools receive additional incentives to help engage families, including a Bright Future Fun Pack filled with materials for each kindergarten student; an Invest in ME Kindergarten banner for their school to hang; and a $500 grant to support Invest in ME Kindergarten initiatives or events hosted by the school.
529 and the Neighborhood
Maine has joined a twenty-seven-state movement to take on the student debt problem in a national campaign. The aim of the campaign, led by the 529 College Savings Plans Network, is to limit college debt for new generations by helping families plan ahead for higher education costs. The movement’s 529 message will be amplified throughout 2019 and into 2020 under an agreement with Fred Rogers Productions, the company founded by the late Mister Rogers, the beloved advocate of children’s education. The campaign’s spots will air before and after episodes of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. The series is one of the highest co-viewed children’s shows between parents and young children and is based on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
According to industry data, less than one-third of U.S. parents are even aware that college 529 plans exist and less than 18 percent of children nationwide are enrolled in a 529 plan.
“In Maine those numbers are higher, but we still have a lot of work to do to help families afford higher education,” said Bruce Wagner, CEO of FAME. “We’ve learned that children with college savings are three-times more likely to go to college and four- times more likely to graduate, even when they only have a few hundred dollars saved in the account. Invest in ME Kindergarten is just another way we are actively reaching Maine families to help them afford higher education.”
According to FAME Director of Education Martha Johnston, “There are many steps that Maine families can take to encourage their children to aspire to higher education. One is to open their own college savings accounts. Here in Maine we have Maine’s Section 529 Plan, known as NextGen 529™ .”
“Families with a child awarded the $500 Alfond Grant can use it to open a NextGen 529™ account for the child, with no initial contribution. We are working hard to educate parents that there is a difference between the grant and the account,” noted Johnston. “Once they have a NextGen 529™ account, parents, grandparents and friends can make regular contributions to the account and help create a bright future for their child. They may even be able to take advantage of NextGen 529™ matching grants  for Maine residents,” she continued.
Johnston further added: “Kindergarten is a good time for families to think about saving for higher education because some may have space in their budget because of reduced child care expenses as their kindergartener enters school.”
“Ultimately, building college aspirations, increasing completion of postsecondary education, and making it possible for more children to go to college or trade school by increasing college savings and alleviating student debt can play a significant role in boosting Maine’s overall economy,” concluded Wagner.
 To learn more about NextGen 529™, visit www.nextgenforme.com.
FAME is a quasi-independent state agency that expands business and educational opportunities to help Maine people and businesses succeed. To learn more about FAME, please visit FAMEmaine.com.
Harold Alfond was a Maine businessman and philanthropist who wanted every Maine baby to have the opportunity that higher education brings. The Alfond Scholarship Foundation (ASF) is a non-profit organization he created to invest the $500 Alfond Grant at birth for every Maine resident baby for their future higher education. The Alfond Grant is the grant awarded to all babies born Maine residents on or after January 1, 2013. For Maine children born 2008-2012 the grant was available on a more limited basis. To learn more about the grant, visit MAG.


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