More Than Just "Reading Buddies"
An Overview of School-based Mentor Programming
by Peggy Chauncey Cramer, M.A.
What is Mentoring?
Mentoring connects adults and students with younger students to help develop relationships to provide general social/emotional and academic guidance. People of all ages can be empowered to help and mentor others. Educational research has shown that mentoring programs have proven to be a successful way for all students involved to build many developmental assets they need as a foundation for growing up as they learn the value of their education and meaning in their lives.
What are some of the benefits of developing mentoring programs?
The basis of all mentoring programs should be the opportunity for students to develop one-to-one relationships. Relationship-based education is becoming increasingly more important in our technologically driven society where a significant amount of families are fragmented or dysfunctional. Some parents have more demands on their time and choose to become less committed to their children's needs or education. Older siblings too, have jobs and academic or social activities that take precedence over family activities. The relationships that are developed at school are sometimes the only relationships students have without strings attached.
In addition, the necessity for having additional relationships beyond our family relationships is crucial for the development of appropriate student attitudes, self-confidence, and life skills, as well as for opportunities to meet academic needs. Mentors can have a positive influence upon students to help them understand the need to reach their full potential. Interactions between the mentor and student, including discussions and activities, can also enhance understanding of topics including diversity, tolerance, academic subjects, career pathways, goal setting, and the importance of building social responsibility.
What are important aspects to consider when developing a mentoring program?
Every mentoring program should have goals and objectives, the development of well-designed strategies to reach them, and an evaluation process to help measure successes.
To improve student academic performance
Goals should be chosen to cover one or more of these measurable aspects:
To improve student's life skills
To improve student behavior
To improve student attitudes and/or character
Keep in mind that there is a shift in educational thinking and action from fixing young people's problems to promoting their strengths. Programs must now reach beyond the goal of academic success and encompass the student's whole self. The care and attention given to young people is now becoming the most important measure of a community's view of itself. Communities from around the nation are becoming a part of the movement to help their Youth develop assets in areas including positive values, social competencies, empowerment and positive identity.
The Search Institute of Minneapolis, Minnesota is helping develop this change in America. The Institute is promoting this positive approach and development of young people through their Healthy Communities -- Healthy Youth initiative.
* To learn more about the Search Institute and the Healthy Communities --
Healthy Youth Initiative, log on to http://www.search-institute.org
Educators have the awesome task of creating an environment where all students can utilize and build upon their strengths. They must present standards-based lessons that will engage students' minds and encourage them to be positive thinkers and doers. These basic objectives can be the impetus for developing mentor program objectives, including to increase the positive school participation of students as shown in better grades, fewer disciplinary incidences, increased school attendance and improved attitude.
student interest surveys
Each goal and objective must have an appropriate, measurable evaluation
process. These evaluation instruments might include:
teacher pre-post mentoring surveys
baseline student academic data using class grades and test scores
Measuring the success of the goals and objectives of your mentor initiative should be subjective as well as objective. Student, mentor, parent, and teacher satisfaction should be monitored and surveyed. Goals and objectives should be reviewed, participation in activities should be recorded, and class work and test results could be assessed and compared to baseline data.
If you are going to implement a program with older student mentors, it is important to determine what student resources you have available in your district, and work out the logistics of scheduling and transporting students to your building.
If you are representing an elementary school, is there a middle school, high school and/or colleges available from which to draw mentors? Is there a Youth Service Organization in your district that helps place student who wish to volunteer? Is there a Career Pathway Internship Program in your high school that places students thinking about the teaching field as a career? Is your district's Athletic Director interested in helping you by referring student athletes as mentors or volunteers? Are there colleges nearby to call upon for volunteers?
Including and utilizing the student resources is a great way to build a comprehensive mentoring initiative in your building. The younger children really look up to and learn from their older mentors.
Adults From the Community
Having the support from community members from the private, business, and faith-based organizations allows students to realize that their community cares and values them. Connecting family activities with these community members gives everyone a chance to interact and learn about other cultures and family traditions.
Tapping into the community of older, retired adults is a true gold mine for children. "Grand-mentors" are anxious to continue to be productive and useful. Intergenerational programs reaching across the generations are a wonderful ways for old and young alike to have opportunities to share and connect with a special person.
How can your mentoring initiative be included in the school curriculum?
You have great capabilities for mentoring right within your own school, using your own students. I explain to students that they have "been there done that!" Also, "You are learning every day!" No matter what grade they are in, students can be mentors for other students. If this is your first attempt to implement mentoring programming in your school, it is less complicated to connect all classes together for academic or curriculum based mentor programs including:
- Buddy Reading - Readers reading to low or non-readers.
- Science activities - Sharing science experiments or unit activities in multi-age or same age groups.
- Writing workshop - Non-writers dictating to writers (allows for younger students to have their stories written and older students' writing and editing skills sharpened)
- Math activities such as graphing, estimating, practicing telling time or counting money are just a few.
The connecting and matching process can be as simple as having teachers in your school choose a class from another grade level for each activity or as a year-long partnership. I prefer to have the extended partnership because it helps the groups develop relationships and friendships beyond friends in their own grade level. When students continue in a biweekly sharing program, these one-to-one relationships could easily be extended beyond the classroom sharing time, and additional independent sharing time between two students can be scheduled.
School to School
Supporting your curriculum through school-to-school mentoring is also a great way to reinforce your standards. However, with the development of mentored relationships with students from another school, it is first important to match the older students' interests and backgrounds with those of the mentored students. Identifying these interests can be done with a simple interest survey asking the students to rate sports interests, hobbies, and art or music preferences. This will help in the matching process and the extra time spent in this process will allow the connected students to have things in common, a helpful start in building their relationship. Remember, the main objective is to help develop the student's assets and to help support a one-to-one relationship, everything else comes with the trust, respect, and friendship that is built. It will also help the older student to leave a positive mark on the lives of kids and in their community.
These Mentor Programs can include:
Older elementary students connected with younger students as tutor, friend and role model.
Middle School students acting as tutors to young students, and remaining involved as mentors for elementary students going to middle school the following year.
High School student mentors serving as classroom aides, student interns, workshop leaders, tutors and coaches.
College students acting as classroom aides or interns, tutors and mentors.
Act Now! You Can Make the Difference!
Educational research supports mentoring opportunities in schools for educating the 'whole' student academically, socially, mentally, and physically. Opportunities for general guidance, academic tutoring, language development and building relationships can be supported across the curriculum. Programs can empower students not only at your school but also throughout your district. It gives the student mentors a chance to develop positive self-esteem because they are helping others, and encourages the mentor to continue to make good choices in their own lives. For these mentors it might enhance and develop career pathway understanding and career preference.
When your school facilitates connected activities, everyone benefits from the relationships built. Community members involved in your initiative will appreciate the chance to show commitment to their community and the children, and will spread the word to others.
Students engaged in mentor programs have the opportunity to discover the importance and relevancy in the development of one-to-one relationships. Those mentored will see their mentor as a role model, friend, and guide.
Start a mentoring program today, and help students build important assets for developing life skills, social responsibility and help them value their education and find meaning in their lives.
Peggy Cramer is also the author of Matthew's Sunshine available online in the December 2001 issue of the Gazette. http://teachers.net/gazette/DEC01/cramer.html
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