Stand by Me: The Risks and Rewards of Mentoring Todays Youth (The Family and Public Policy)

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As a result of caring school administrators, a school librarian, a college professor, and local university students, the mentoring program at the middle school has grown. After 3 years working together, the mentoring program has become an integral part of the school community. Each semester, middle school students interested in participating in the mentoring program sign up with the school librarian. Students are then paired with mentors from the local high school or college who volunteer for the program. As an advocate for building the mentoring relationship at the middle school level, the author provides an average of 25 mentors each semester for the program.

Mentors in the program were paired with a mentee of the same gender and with the same interests. Prior to the first meeting, mentors attended an orientation session to learn what the school district deemed appropriate and inappropriate for the mentor—mentee meetings. Mentors were instructed not to meet with mentees outside of school and not to exchange phone numbers or any other type of personal contact information. Mentors were instructed to talk with and get to know their mentee. Mentors and mentees met once a week for thirty minutes in the library, the gym, or the lunch room.

Though some mentors did help their mentees with homework or other assignments, most mentors played games and talked with their mentee about life and shared similar experiences from adolescence. In this program, mentors were able to provide an example to students mentees and talked about the importance of graduating from high school and of education. They provided a supportive relationship needed by many of their adolescent mentees. In the current program, many of the mentors explained that they spent most of their time talking while they played games or engaged in other activities.

After a few meetings, the students felt they could trust their mentors and shared many of the struggles and difficulties they encounter during adolescence. Strong ties were created between them, which allowed the mentees to grow in their development by sharing troubling experiences.

To be a successful mentor at the school, the mentor must care about the student. Mentors are encouraged to get to know their mentees and be good listeners. By playing games or engaging in conversations, mentees usually begin to feel comfortable with their mentors after just a few meetings. Then, mentors and mentees share in conversations about school, friends, and life.

Depending on the interests and needs of the mentee and mentor, they meet once a week and play card games, talk, play a game of basketball in the gym, or work on school assignments. The individualization of the program provides the mentee with what he or she needs, both academically and personally.

Mentee experiences Most mentors meet with their mentees throughout the entire school year for thirty minutes each week, though some college students were only able to participate in the program during one semester because of changes in their schedules or transferring to another university. Though some of the initial meetings begin with awkwardness and small talk, many relationships develop as trust and understanding grow. In her paragraph submitted at the end of the semester, one mentor expressed that she noticed her mentee becoming more lighthearted:.

At the beginning of our sessions, all [of the mentee's] stories mainly consisted of family troubles and rough times. However, after three weeks of visits, her stories began to be about what she was doing in her classes and the fun things she was going to do with friends after school.

This was a change I was happy to see because that's what a sixth grader should be focused on, not just stressful situations at home. She became more energetic and happy to see me and this was great. Mentees also had an opportunity to realize that their struggles in school are not unique to them. One mentor wrote that she too experienced difficulty in math, but with hard work, she was able to overcome her problems:. I shared with her my personal struggles with math to help her realize that she is not alone when it comes to a situation like this. On my next visit she came running to the library full of excitement to tell me that she had passed her test.

A Systemic Model of the Youth Mentoring Intervention

Mentor experiences College students participating in the program admitted to changes in their attitudes toward school and established new goals for the future, such as setting goals for after college and putting forth more effort in coursework. Middle school students mentioned that they appreciated the program because they felt their mentor cared for them, "even when no one else does.

Middle school students participating in the program mentioned that their mentors helped them to maintain good grades, make better choices, stay out of trouble, and develop a better attitude about school. One mentor wrote in his paragraph that "[The program] has really given me an insight of the real problems that middle school students go through that some teachers may not see. However, middle school students participating in the mentoring program at this school can agree that their mentors helped them to establish a positive identity.

Though many of the mentor—mentee relationships worked out well, some did not. Changes are made every year to the program to remind the mentors what is required of them. As mentors, they need to be reminded not to share phone numbers and other personal contact information with their mentees.

Also, the mentors sometimes brought gifts to mentees, which set a precedent for others to do the same. This may also be a problem for mentees participating in the program for gifts or rewards instead of the benefit of a mentoring relationship. Despite these few instances, most relationships were positive.

As the mentor program continues to grow at this middle school, other school leaders in the community have begun to work to develop similar programs. The community has several middle schools that need volunteers, and school leaders have reached out to community members and others at the university to increase the number of volunteers to serve as mentors for students. As those involved in the mentoring program have more opportunities to make changes based on the existing mentor and mentee needs, the existing program is likely to continue to grow to reach more students.

Though research findings in the area of mentoring are extensive and even contradictory Komosa-Hawkins, ; Larose et al. As middle level educators begin the process of creating an effective mentoring program, we suggest contacting local colleges or universities with teacher education programs. Most pre-service teachers are required to have observation hours or experiences working with students; professors may welcome opportunities to provide teacher candidates with the experience of becoming a mentor. Encouraging professors to offer mentoring as an alternative to a course assignment may be another way to encourage involvement in the program.

The next step is to examine the academic impact of mentoring on student success. Effective mentoring engages students who were previously disinterested in learning Black, Mentoring relationships that are informal, fl exible, listening-oriented, and mentee-driven help to prepare students for life beyond the classroom too, encouraging students to attend either a 2- or 4-year post- high school program or university Black, Dappen and Iserhagen and Ahrens et al.

Ahrens et al. Their fi nd- ings also showed that when students feel like they matter to their teachers, their level of academic motivation increases as well Ahrens et al. Ultimately, this motivational increase is the hope and expectation of mentoring programs that focus on the process instead of solely on the results. Providing young adolescents with opportunities to learn from those in their local commu- nity with whom they feel comfortable sharing their chal- lenges and accomplishments may empower middle level students by helping them to develop the skills and knowl- edge needed for their current lives as well as the future phases of their lives NMSA, Ahrens, K.

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Background

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Youth Mentoring Research Pioneer and Expert Jean Rhodes - University of Massachusetts Boston

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'If You Mentor Me...'

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