Opinion

School-Based Mentoring Works

 

I read with interest Jen Russell’s article, “School-Based Mentoring Needs a Friend” (June). Having received and administered one of these grants, I recommend a second research article titled, “School-Based Mentoring Is a Friend.”

The nonprofit for which I work submitted and received a three-year, $600,000 grant to establish a one-on-one mentoring program for middle school students, using two high schools and a university as sources for mentors. Our grant contained all of the things absent from the schools that participated in the recently reported research. We declined participation in the Abt Associates research because we would have had to turn away students after soliciting them with the promise of mentors. Perhaps other successful programs did likewise?

The school calendar does not intrinsically limit the creation of close, long-term relationships. It does, however, challenge those who are committed to mentoring. Our middle school students met with their mentors every Tuesday that school was in session for two hours after school. Summer sessions were another story, but the mentoring team filled in and doubled up with those who were still around during June and July.

Mentoring is not better than nothing. It is better than anything. I have spent over 40 years in teaching and school administration, including 10 years as superintendent of a 17,000-student district, and have found no other vehicle that connected student to student, student to school and home to school as successfully.

Not all aspects of viable and successful programs have measurable impacts. How does one measure the development of self-confidence or quantify the value of mentoring to the classroom teacher?

We enrolled 100 students over three years. Personal relationships were greatly improved through mentoring. Many, if not most, of our mentees had no friends in the school prior to joining our program. Mentors and mentees had to demonstrate personal responsibility and community involvement. Mentees participated in school activities, such as the annual talent show and several community projects each year. By the end of three years, teachers were stopping by the program to compliment the mentees and mentors on their growth.

If there is an explanation for Abt’s findings, I suggest that those who participated in the research project either submitted grant applications that did not contain the necessary components for high-quality mentoring, or failed to integrate those components as stipulated in their grants. The fault lies with the Department of Education monitors who never noticed or called certain grant recipients into accountability. On the other hand, thanks to the Department of Education, we engaged an independent evaluator who substantiated the effectiveness of our mentoring initiative.

We significantly impacted the family life and school environment for each mentee. Our mentors cried, or mentees were forlorn and our parents devastated when funding was cut and we had to say good-bye. We made a difference.

Ruth A. Connolly
Development Director
Employment Opportunity & Training Center of Northeastern Pennsylvania
Scranton, Pa.

It was a great surprise to me to read the results of the school-based mentoring evaluation. I coordinate the Wicomico Mentoring Project, which is a one-on-one, school-based program. We are starting our 16th year, and have always had good stats to report.

We capture feedback from mentees, mentors, parents and teachers. We compare GPA’s, attendance and behaviors this year to last year. We have always shown significant improvement in children who have mentors. I understand that these evaluations compared children with mentors to children without mentors, but I think they also need to look at each child’s improvement.

Mentoring shows results in small, incremental steps. These programs need longevity to offer a good base to study the effects of school-based mentoring.

We had over 890 matches last year, and have over 1,000 students on our waiting list. We started with community mentors, and school staff noticed the difference in the students. Enough of a difference that now about 60 percent of our mentors are education staff (teachers, assistants, office personnel, facilities personnel). They take their planning or lunch time to mentor children.

Since there are other influences in the lives of the control group, I am not sure that [the study] will provide an accurate measure of whether school-based mentoring works. Seeing the continued improvement of each student does.

Henrietta Parker
Project Coordinator
Wicomico Mentoring Project
Salisbury, Md.

 

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