Mentorship Programs and the Academic Setting

Many young people look to adults for guidance and support. This is needed to help youth and adolescents with the problems they face at home, school, and in the community. Despite this, not all children can go to their parents for guidance. Some parents may be unable to provide support or undependable and unreliable. This includes a parent incarcerated, addicted, sick, or abandonment. Some children may have lost a parent to tragedy or may live with other relatives. Fundamentally, this describes a child who is either unwilling or uncomfortable expressing themselves with their parent or guardian. Consequently, it is important for today’s youth to have a support system aside from friends and family. This additional support can be a teacher, a guidance counselor, religious leader, or an influential member of the community. The need to reach out and offer support to youth has encouraged the development of mentor programs for children and teens. Mentor programs can be an after school program or a service offered in the community. The most popular is the Big Brother and Big Sister program. It is a nationwide program that partners’ adult men and women with children to offer guidance, support, or just to listen. However, it is important to provide this outside support within the educational setting as well. Offering mentor programs in schools can have a positive effect on children and teens by improving academic success and social skills. There are several studies conducted on mentorship which demonstrate this can provide a positively influence. Participating children, get along better with peers and teachers, attend school on a regular basis, and improve their grades. As a result, young people who spend time with a mentor regularly graduate at a higher rate than those who do not, through structure, consistency, positive affirmation, and encouragement of future success. 

The concept of pairing together caring adults with at-risk children has helped millions of young people throughout the United States. Yet, there are still some who fall through the cracks.  Every day, 3600 students drop out of school and 2700 teenage girls become pregnant, (Keating, Tomishima, Foster, & Alessandria, 2002). The majority of these teens and adolescents do not have a healthy relationship with a caring adult to help them navigate through life. As a result, “mentoring programs have become increasingly popular as an preventive intervention strategy for youth”, (DuBois & Neville, 1998).  A structured mentoring program consists of volunteer mentors from the community that are not family members. The mentors are individuals who possess good and objective listening skills, able to commit to a long term relationship with the mentee, and can meet on a regular basis for an extended time. “Youth mentoring programs differ…but most emphasize the relationship between a disadvantaged youth and a caring adult”, (Keating, Tomishima, Foster, & Alessandri, 2002). Through a healthy relationship with an adult, mentees are 46% less likely to start using drugs , 27% less likely to start using alcohol , 33% less likely to commit acts of violence, and 52% less likely to skip school. Considering these numbers, there is no mistaking the affect that mentor programs have on mentees. This also illustrates the affect that school based mentor programs can have on school culture. These statistics directly influence middle and high school graduation rates. Thus, it is easy to see the positive effect that a solid mentoring program can have in today’s school system.

The most notable mentoring program is Big Brothers & Big Sisters, with roots going back as far as 1904. The program has touched the lives of millions of young people throughout 50 states and serves as a model for mentorship around the country. Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America pair volunteers from the community with mentee’s and spend quality time with one another. Although this is a large and influential program, there remain a percentage of students in need of this additional support. Large percentages are students that would not attend community based programs. However, with mentoring found school settings, it will address the heart of this population, reaching students with poor school attendance and little motivation for academic success. In 1997, during the summit for America’s future, youth advocates gathered to assess the necessary tools for youth to be successful. The first area identified the need for youth to have a positive healthy relationship with an adult such as a parent, mentor, tutor, or coach to help them to face life’s roadblocks. While there are different types of mentoring programs, the traditional programs are community based organizations like Big Brothers and Big Sisters. However, programs must also be implemented into the academic setting to encourage students. This includes encouragement to strive towards a better education, improve their social skills with students and teachers, and make plans for the future.

Today’s youth have a great desire to be accepted. Though they are young, children need to know they matter and need acceptance by peers and caring adults. This is the reason gangs are appealing to young people. As crazy as it seems, gangs can be seen as mentorship. There are gang leaders (caring adults), who build relationships with disadvantage young people. Although this is for all the wrong reasons, aspects of mentoring are present. As a result, what matters most to the mentee, is that he or she is accepted at face value. While this is difficult to do, it is the first step and foundation in beginning a positive relationship with mentees. It will open the door in other areas of the young person’s life. Trust is gained, but only by accepting the child for who he or she is. A good mentoring relationship will build on different areas of their life, from relationships with others to academic success. “The presence of a strong emotional connection between mentor and protégé is associated with better outcomes, such as improvements in perceptions of scholastic competence and feelings of self-worth”, (Deutsch & Spencer, 2009). Even when helping prepare students for the future, mentees require someone who is objective, and most importantly, believes in the future endeavors of the child. A school wide mentoring program will not only addresses individual changes, but also changes within school culture. This was seen in a study conducted by Lampley and Johnson, who determined that a “significant difference was found for all three study criterion variables- GPA, discipline referrals, and attendance records”. As stated above, statistics indicate that community based mentoring programs have an overall positive affect on young people and decision making. So it is fair to say that decision making is an area of concern in for many schools including drugs, alcohol, fighting, and attendance.  A mentoring program, when done correctly, provides a solution to many of those problems. “Mentoring has been shown to help students achieve better grades, establish obtainable goals, and enhance their self-esteem [as] adult mentors can provide at-risk students with a positive influential person in their lives and may positively impact academic achievement”, (Lampley & Johnson, 2010).

            Mentor programs are highly recommended to impoverished and at-risk youth. At risk-youth are defined at-risk for a number of reasons. These youth are at-risk of academic failure, teen pregnancy, youth detention, or drug and alcohol abuse. Although deemed at-risk can entail many things, overall, at-risk youth are destined for disaster. Lampley and Johnson concede that at-risk students are associated with, “retention in grade level, poor attendance, behavioral problems, low social economic status or poverty, low achievement, substance abuse, teen pregnancy”. Specifically, these youth are in great need of mentorship to offer support through the challenges in life. Thus, it is important that mentor programs are implemented in the school system. “Research indicates that a positive, caring adult could offer an at-risk student substantial emotional and instructional support that could supplement the needs not met by a student’s family or regular school program”, (Lampley & Johnson, 2010). Mentor programs in school offer a child the ability to rise to the occasion and put focus back into what is important, academic achievement. Research indicates that children mentored in school have a greater possibility to achieve success and produce positive results. “Mentor relationships predict significant changes… including attitudes towards school, academic confidence, self-concept, attitudes towards helping, feelings of school connectedness” all of which produce a successful and confident student, (Britner, Balcazar, Blechman, Blinn-Pike, & Larose, 2006). In this way it is vital that at-risk youth receive such support from mentor programs.

It is noted that mentor programs can produce positive results for students due to affirmation. By paring youth with caring adults, the child can receive affirmation about things that occur in their life and affirmation of self-value. Affirmation is verification and confirmation from a caring adult. A child may need affirmation that they are a likable, they can excel, or confirmation that they are valuable.  It is important for a child to be listened to and their problems heard. Affirmation from an adult confirms with the child that everything is okay. Through the help of mentor programs, a child can receive affirmation on a regular basis. This helps the child succeed and strive to be the best they can be. “It entails acknowledgement of the protégés perspective and needs, encouragement towards independent thinking and problem solving, as well as the provision of opportunities to make choices and hold age appropriate responsibilities”, (Britner, Balcazar, Blechman, Blinn-Pike, & Larose, 2006). This same study indicates that 83% of mentees reported an increase in self-esteem and self-worth. This high percentage demonstrates the positive effect mentor programs can have on children and teens.

Mentor programs are extremely beneficial to youth. “Mentoring may provide some of this social support and hence improve youth functioning”, (Hawkins & Weiss, 1985). Not only do the children bond and develop a strong connection with a carrying adult, the child is able to learn addition skills that can be used later in life. The child will learn to communicate his or her feelings, learn to socialize with others, and develop a caring attitude. These additional skills are then taken into the home, community, and school. Whereas before the child did not care about academic success, with the help of a mentor program they will have a strong drive to achieve personal goals they have set for themselves. Furthermore, building communication skills will allow the child to communicate better with parents and/or siblings in the home. The relationship built between mentor and mentee can be used to develop stronger relationships with those around them. As such, “by serving as a sounding board and providing a model of effective communication, for example, mentors may help youth to better understanding, express, and regulate their emotions”, (Rhodes & Dubois, 2008).

Although affirmation from a caring adult may help a child reach academic achievement, this can be problematic for others. Some youth, especially those who are at-risk or have social and behavior problems, have a difficult time relating with their mentor and developing quality relationships. These children often attempt to ruin their mentor relationship due to fears, trust, or past broken relationships. Some children are wary of developing a bond with a carrying adult due to fears of abandonment or may think the mentor does not care. Consequently, “youth who experienced emotional, sexual, or physical abuse were more likely than other youth to have had their mentor relationship end”, (Britner, Balcazar, Blechman, Blinn-Pike, & Larose, 2006). Children who receive a mentor often do not have a change in behavior or outlook in life. Those who have issues with emotions or connecting with others may push their mentor away. As such, mentor programs do not work for all children. “Some theories of juvenile delinquency suggest that youth develop delinquent behavior patterns because they have not identified with appropriate role models in their environment”, (Hawkins & Weiss, 1985). Despite this, most are able to receive positive benefits from a mentor either in the community or in the academic setting. Rhodes and Dubois claim that, “youth who are over whelmed by social and behavioral problems appear to be less likely to experience strong enduring ties with their mentors and perhaps consequently, also receive fewer benefits”.

When developing or participating in a mentorship program, it is important to have a mentor who is structured and consistent. This is imperative for the mentee and must be done for the child to experience a positive change. “The mentors in each environment are also chosen on the basis of whether or not they are likely to be long-term participants in the mentor-in structure so that constant support can be available”, (Miller, 1997). This will enable positive results and allow the child to increase academic achievement. When developing a relationship, the mentor will care for the mentee. The mentor will express concern over the mentee’s wellbeing and encourage the mentee to succeed. Keating, Tomishima, Foster, and Alessandri reported that, “for children in the program for 1-2 years reported success was 69% for those in the program 2-3 years it was 90%”. As a result, the longer the relationship between mentor and mentee increases their bond and the probability to produce positive results. This may include academic success, excel in activities, and encourage self-worth. As such, it is important the mentor and mentee relationship have structure. The mentor must see the child regularly and not disappoint the child. Not only should there be a structured schedule, the mentor must encourage respect, discourage inappropriate behavior, as well as develop a positive foundation. Without this, the relationship may fail and the mentee may not receive the encouragement and support needed. Structure implemented by a mentor will provide “higher rule compliance and greater ability to complete school work”, (Britner, Blacazar, Blechman, Blinn-Pike, & Larose, 2006).

 

Despite building structure and a stable relationship, a mentee may continue to fail socially and academically. This is seen especially in youth with adversities in the family and in the community such as those who come from dysfunctional backgrounds or low income households. This can negatively affect the mentor/mentee relationship. An example is a teenager who must work to support the home and cannot afford to spend time with the mentor. This is also seen in a mentee who is swayed by outside forces such as gang members and other negative influences. Consequently, “environmental adversities such as family instability and socioeconomic disadvantages also frequently pose challenges to the formation of mentoring relationships”, (Rhodes & Dubois, 2008). Furthermore, as iterated in the previous paragraph, structure in the mentor/mentee relationship is important to develop a bond and for the child to make positive life changes. However, if a mentor is inconsistent, does not appear to care for the mentee, or cannot develop a bond, then the child may not exhibit improved social skills and academic success. Due to this, research suggest that, “mentor protégé matches that ended prematurely were marked by poor or inconsistent contact”, (Britner, Balcazar, Blechman, Blinn-Pike, & Larose, 2006).

Mentoring programs in schools provide a safe place and supervised environment, as “mentoring have taken place for generations, both inside and outside the classroom”, (Cutshall, 2001). This way, the program takes place on school days and does not require one to give time on weekends. A big positive for school based mentoring programs is it creates the ability to reach a wider range of students, made up of those who have fallen behind. Another positive is to involve the community in partnership.  The idea that the community cares and wants to be involved will develop a sense of pride within young people. In addition, the community will have a part in their success. While this is repeated over and over again, there is no denying the demand and need for a structured mentoring program within schools. Given the state of today’s youth, schools can no longer see themselves as education only.  The school will have to go above and beyond education. Students who have an influential teacher, will do so because that teacher went above and beyond. Some teachers are overwhelmed with work and many times do not have time to mentor all students in a given class. This is why there is a need for good, strong, mentor role models from the community to step up and make a difference in the life of a young person.

A predominate and important factor in implementing mentorship programs in the academic setting is for the child to make positive changes; to change from an at-risk student, to a successful student. This is indicated by the research collected. It is said that 47% of mentored students have improved grades in schools and 49% have improved school attendance. The fact that students begin to take responsibility for their academic achievement is phenomenal. Rhodes and Dubois say that, “mentors may help shift youths conceptions of both their current and future identities”. This shift from not caring about school, to caring will encourage the student to excel. From encouraging words, to helping the mentee face life challenges and providing support, mentors can ultimately help the protégé to see their future self. They will achieve and succeed at reaching their goals in life, whether it’s a professional career or continue their education. Either way, the improved self-esteem and self-worth aided by a mentor can dramatically improve the academic achievement of a child. “One important objective of many mentoring programs is to encourage protégé to make autonomous decisions and assume responsibility regarding life choices”, (Britner, Balcazar, Blechman, Blinn-Pike, & Larose, 2006). This need to succeed will encourage youth to seek out resources that are available to them, continue their education, or seek vocational training. With encouraging outside forces in place, the child is encouraged to succeed not only academically but also in life.

It is easy to buy into the myth that mentoring is a solution for urban schools and their crisis of student dropouts, violence, and substance abuse. However, these issues are seen in suburban and rural schools as well. Therefore, mentoring has the ability to reach across all barriers and a successful solution to many problems seen in schools throughout various communities. While mentoring may not be a cure all, it is a step in the right direction. California State University professor, Andrew Bein suggests that, “mentoring programs can offer meaningful benefits to school children and if designed correctly, can be an empowering force for the school community”. The ultimate goal of mentoring is to enrich the lives of youth, to encourage them, build their self-esteem, and provide a voice of reason. This may be a huge task but the rewards are tremendous. Such programs affect not only the mentor and mentee. This has the ability to reach the classroom and the community when performed in a structured school setting.  The rewards create a win-win for everyone involved.

Consequently, implementing school mentorship programs allow at-risk students to benefit from the additional source of support. Through aspects including affirmation of self, providing structure and consistency, and encouraging students to look towards the future with positive light, youth are greatly influenced by such mentoring programs. This is why it is important to implement such programs in the academic setting. Thus, “participation in mentoring relationships have been found to be linked to higher attendance in class, fewer voluntary absences, lower aggressiveness, greater vocational skills, greater participation in college prep activities, and better chance of taking part in higher education”, (Britner, Balcazar, Blechman, Blinn-Pike, & Larose, 2006).

 

References

 Bein, A. (1999). School social worker involvement in mentoring programs. Social Work in Education, 21(2), 120-128.

 Britner, P., Balcazar, F., Blechman, E., Blinn-Pike, L., & LaRose, S. (2006). Mentoring special youth populations. Journal of Community Psychology, 34(6), 747-767. Retrieved from: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jcop.20127/abstract

 Cutshall, S. (2001). Mentoring makes the grade. Connecting Educators and Careers76(8),

 Deutsch, N., & Spencer, R. (2009). Capturing the magic: Assessing the quality of youth mentoring relationships. New Directions for Youth Development, 2009(121), 47-70, p24.

 DuBois, D., & Neville, H. (1998). Youth mentoring: Investigation of relationship characteristics and perceived benefits. Journal of Community Psychology, 25(3), 227-237. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/(SICI)1520-6629(199705)25:3<227::AID-JCOP1>3.0.CO;2-T/abstract

Hawkins, & Weis, J. G. (1985). The social development model: An integrated approach to delinquency prevention. Journal of Primary Prevention, 6, 73-97.

 Keating, L., Tomishima, M., Foster, S., & Alessandria, M. (2002). The Effects of a mentoring program on at-risk youth. Adolescence, 37(148), 717, 18p

 Lampley, J.H., & Johnson, K.C. (2010). Mentoring at-risk youth: Improving academic achievement in middle school students, Nonpartisan Education Review / Articles, 6(1). Retrieved [date] from ttp://npe.educationnews.org/Review/Articles/v6n1.pdf

 Miller, D. (1997). Mentoring structures: Building a protective community. Preventing  School Failure, 41(3), 105,5p

 Rhodes, J., & DuBois, D. (2008). Mentoring relationships and programs for youth. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 17(4), 254-258. Retrieved from http://cdp.sagepub.com/content/17/4/254.short

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About Russia Robinson

I am an independent freelance writer and free thinker. I strive to use my writing talents to benefit the greater good of society, one word, one sentence, one page at a time. Originally from Richmond, California I attended San Francisco State University receiving a BA in English Creative Writing and American Literature in 2004. After this I attended post graduate studies in 2008 at Georgia’s Kennesaw State University in Technical Writing. With an academic background in English, I have spent more than 10 years’ helping young people succeed. This can be seen in my career background in education and mental health. I am a certifiable Language Arts teacher for the state of Georgia. I also worked in social services including juvenile mental health treatment services and counseling. As a result, I understand the diversity of problems people face in their everyday lives. With words put together like so, I promote equality and a healthy society for all people regardless of individual differences. Conducting research, writing articles, essays, and blogging, I push to educate others about various issues that affect people. I also do this creatively through short stories, poems, pictures, and a novel in progress. My hobbies and interest are reading and learning. I enjoy all things art and all things nature. From camping and astronomy to photography and cooking, I enjoy sighting seeing and socializing just as much as I enjoy curling in bed with a good book or binge watching TV.
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