How Mentors Help At-Risk Students Find Confidence in Themselves and in School
Every school has some population of at-risk students. These students often struggle to maintain passing grades, have truancy records and discipline problems, and are indeed at-risk of losing enrollment in their current schools. Importantly, at-risk students also often have difficult home lives and may experience one-parent households, difficulties associated with poverty, inconsistent adult role models, and insufficient quality time and care from adults.
In their paper, “Making a difference with at-risk students: The benefits of a mentoring program in middle school,” authors Suzanne F. Lindt and Cody Blair note that over the past 20 years, mentoring programs have been increasingly used as a way to support at-risk students. Mentoring programs such as Big Brothers, Big Sisters, TEAMmates, Study Buddies, and The Mentoring Project have been shown to not only support students’ socio-emotional wellbeing, but also their academic standing. Lindt and Blair remark, for example, that previous studies have shown that mentored students felt more confident about schoolwork and were significantly less likely to be truant compared to their non-mentored peers (35).
Who Do You Eat Lunch With?: Cross-Ethnic Interactions and Student Academic Achievement
Who do you eat lunch with? This seemingly simple question leads to much information about students: their shared values and interests, their friendships and peer supports, and even their academic achievement. In their paper, “Early Adolescents’ Peer Experiences with Ethnic Diversity in Middle School: Implications for Academic Outcomes,” authors Jakeem Amir Lewis et al. investigate the correlations between students’ interactions with cross-ethnic peers and student academic achievement. Their research reveals that students who eat lunch routinely with peers who have different ethnic backgrounds than their own (cross-ethnic peers) have higher academic achievement than students who eat less frequently with cross-ethnic peers or who eat with only students of the same ethnic background.
Strong Students Get Stronger and the Struggling Continue to Struggle
The “Matthew”-effect originally described the concept that “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer” (3). However, since the term’s coining in 1968, it has been applied to the educational phenomenon in which “strong students get stronger and struggling students struggle even more” (3). In their paper, “Is teacher judgment accuracy of students’ characteristics beneficial for verbal teacher-student interactions in classroom?,” authors Maralena Pielmeier et al. explain that students with already high pre-achievement and high levels of confidence in a given subject are more likely to be verbally engaged in class, while students with lower pre-achievement and self-confidence are less engaged. However, if teachers can accurately judge students’ levels of student achievement and confidence, they may be better able to address the needs of lower performing students and help mitigate the “Matthew”-effect.