This article explores mentoring relationships for at-risk youth with an emphasis on the guiding principles of effective mentoring programs and the steps necessary to initiate such programs for students K-12. Discussion focuses on the definition of a mentoring relationship, individuals engaged in such relationships; research based benefits of participation in mentoring partnerships, specific examples of successful mentoring programs, and recommended strategies for application in the K-12 educational and community setting. Specific programs highlighted include Big Brothers Big Sisters, Healthy Kids Mentoring Program, Architect, Construction Management, and Engineering (ACE), and more general peer-tutoring and peer-assistance models.
Keywords At-risk Youth; Architect, Construction Management, &Engineering (ACE) Mentor Program; Big Brothers Big Sisters; Healthy Kids Mentoring Program; Mentee; Mentor; Peer-Tutoring; Reciprocal Relationships
Definition of Mentoring Relationships
A mentoring relationship includes a student (mentee) and his or her mentor. Hinton (2006) describes a mentor as someone who serves in the role of a teacher, counselor, guide, protector or friend. There is a limited understanding of mentor education (teaching someone to be a mentor) in schools, and being a mentor is not recognized as a profession (Ulvik & Sunde, 2013). Programs abound, however, in business and, especially, education settings. A mentor and mentee are paired according to interests, personalities, common characteristics, and needs. According to Bernstein (2007), both individuals meet regularly on a one-on-one basis in scheduled meetings that are usually arranged by community organizations, corporations, or schools. Bernstein (2007) highlights that mentoring relationships help young people overcome obstacles and enhance their strengths. This sets them on a path of life equipped with the skills necessary to be successful. King et al. (2002) further illuminates the findings of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health that positive connections to adults or other students is the number one factor saving children from suicide, depression, substance abuse, early sexual involvement, and teen pregnancy.
Barton-Arwood et al. (2000) highlight three guiding principles that serve as a framework for the development of a mentoring program. First and foremost, mentoring programs allow individuals to build reciprocal relationships. Both the mentor and the mentee benefit greatly as each has something unique to share and gain from the experience. Secondly, Rockwell (1997; cited in Barton-Arwood et al., 2000) indicates that mentoring relationships are important for the purpose of completing tasks or achieving goals. Often, mentoring partnerships can take the form of peer-tutoring or peer-assistance dyads in which both partners work together toward a common goal or completion of a shared task or assignment. Lastly, Barton-Arwood et al. discuss the findings of Miller (1997) and Townsel (1997) that mentoring relationships help reinforce and model appropriate social values and norms such as honesty, sharing, and empathy.
King et al. (2002) indicate that mentoring programs offer safe environments, encouragement and support, empowering activities, and specific guidelines for behavior. Thus mentoring programs directly contribute to increased self-esteem, improved attitudes toward school, more appropriate behavior; fewer discipline issues and fewer absences from school. King et al. (2002) further highlight the fact that mentoring programs can assist students by focusing directly on academic achievement and connections between school, peers, family, and community. Factors influencing learning relate to sharing experiences, sharing information, reflection, observation and support. Additional categories include questioning and listening skills, and similarity and differences between both parties (Jones, 2013). Some mentoring programs are designed specifically to provide support and guidance to students who are considered at-risk and potentially likely to participate in negative, unhealthy behaviors.
King et al. (2002) indicate the overarching goal of a mentoring program is to reduce risky behavior by connecting a student in need to an individual from the school or community. The researchers indicate that mentors serve as positive role models while providing emotional, social and academic support. Britner et al. (2006) further assert that mentoring programs help students increase autonomy and assume responsibility for life choices. Ideal mentoring relationships capitalize on successful relationships to guide students toward increased responsibility for healthy, positive decisions. As students gain more autonomy and work toward making their own decisions, they continue to rely on the mentoring relationship for support and guidance.
According to Bernstein (2007), about 3 million young students in the United States participate in some type of a formal mentoring program. However, the need for additional mentoring relationships is astounding as the sheer number of youths who need a trusted role model is ever increasing due to pressures related to drugs, alcohol, sex, and other potentially risky behaviors. Furthermore, the number of young children and adults who would benefit from a mentoring relationship regardless of exposure to risky behaviors is vast and increasing. Mentoring relationships play a positive role in any student's life as long as they are willing and open to the experience.
Individuals Engaged in Mentoring Relationships
Britner et al. (2006) indicate that mentoring programs are most often designed for abused and neglected youth, youth who have disabilities, pregnant and parenting adolescents, juvenile offenders, and academically at-risk students. The majority of mentoring relationships taking place in school settings are designed for students who are academically at risk. Such students are usually paired with volunteer teachers, older students, or adults from the community. Mentors and mentees meet on a regular basis to work on academic activities such as homework, reading, writing, projects, etc. (Britner et al., 2006). Mentoring for academically at-risk students takes place in a structured time, usually at school, when mentor and mentee can work productively on academic tasks while building a strong relationship. Academic tasks provide a structure for the mentoring relationship and create opportunities for mentors and mentees to interact and learn from each other.
Students with disabilities are the second most common youth group in school settings in need of mentoring relationships. Britner et al. (2006) indicate that research on the effects of mentoring for students with disabilities is limited. However, most educators agree that pairing a disabled student with a mentor with similar disabilities provides a positive role model for students who need as many positive examples as possible. Many students with disabilities have very few role models with similar disabilities to learn from, look up to, and emulate. Such mentoring relationships provide the conditions necessary for students to gain self-esteem and confidence. Mentors demonstrate, by example, that physical limitations do not deter individuals from achieving their goals.
In some school settings, students placed in foster care or alternative home settings may benefit tremendously from mentoring relationships. Rhodes (2002) indicates that students who have been in multiple home placements, in particular, may experience difficulty when trusting adults and therefore great care and consideration must be given to ensure optimal matches for mentoring relationships. Furthermore, Rhodes (2002) asserts that it is not uncommon for frequent disruptions to occur in mentor relationships designed for youth who have alternative home placements simply due to the unfortunate instability in their lives.
Although these are the most common groups of students in school settings who are involved in mentoring relationships, students from all walks of life benefit from the strong relationships developed in mentoring programs. Mentoring programs are not always designed for students potentially exposed to risky behaviors. They can be developed for students entering college, considering a particular career, needing a specific type of role model, etc. The possibilities for mentoring relationships are endless; if there is a need in a student population, a mentoring program can be developed to address that need.
Benefits of Mentoring Relationships
Barton-Arwood et al. (2000) assert that the mentoring relationship provides benefits for both mentors and mentees. Specifically, mentees benefit from learning and practicing new skills with a trusted individual, experiencing a variety of models regarding appropriate behavior, interacting with a variety of individuals of different backgrounds, and learning and practicing the expected norms of the environment. Barton-Arwood et al. (2000) further explain that mentors benefit from improved self-esteem through modeling to another peer, increased opportunities to interact with peers other than themselves, and mastered social competence.
Dappen & Isernhagen (2005) discuss the multitude of research studies conducted regarding the benefits of mentoring for both mentors and mentees. Tierney & Grossman (1995) found that mentoring relationships improve student grades, relationships with others, and reduce drug and alcohol use. Mecca (2001) asserts that mentoring programs improve school attendance, deter teen pregnancy, and decrease the likelihood that students will participate in gangs. Dappen & Isernhagen (2005) further highlight studies conducted by Curtis & Hansen-Schwoebel (1999) indicating that mentoring...
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