How Mentors Help At-Risk Students Find Confidence in Themselves and in School

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).

Lindt and Blair explain that mentoring for students is not limited to large, well-known organizations. Instead, schools can tap into nearby colleges and universities, and even high schools, to set up mentoring partnerships with at-risk students. The authors note that “middle school students positively respond to college-aged mentors, while high school students connect well with adult mentors” (35). The important thing, however, is that the mentor is consistent, genuinely wants to build a relationship with the at-risk student, and cares about the student.

“Students need support and acknowledgement that extends beyond their academic development; many are in need of someone to enter into their lives on a consistent basis and let them know they are interested in more than just how they perform on a test” (36).

In their paper, Lindt and Blair discuss some characteristics that made a particular middle school mentoring program successful and share some guidelines for those who are interested in using mentoring to support at-risk students.

The Take-Away

  • Mentors were students from a local university who were mainly associated with the Department of Education or were local high school students (37).
  • Most mentors had their positions for a full school year, and some for only a semester (37).
  • Middle school students volunteered for the mentoring program and signed up in the school library (37).
  • Mentors were paired with students who were of the same gender and had similar interests (37).
  • Mentors met with students for 30 minutes one time per week after school (37).

“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” (37).

  • Mentors talked with students about the importance of education (37).
  • Mentors and students usually talked while they played games or did some kind of activity (37).
  • Before mentoring, mentors were given a training session to learn about expectations:
    • Do not meet with students outside of school.
    • Do not share personal contact information such as phone numbers, addresses, or emails with students.
    • Do be consistent and show up each week.
    • Do empathize with the student in a real way.
    • Do share personal experiences that may help the student relate and connect (37-38).

Lindt and Blair explain that through the mentoring program both the mentors and at-risk students showed positive changes. Mentors often “established new goals for the future, such as setting goals for after college and putting forth more effort in coursework,” and participating at-risk students believed that their mentors “helped them to maintain good grades, make better choices, stay out of trouble, and develop a better attitude about school” (38). The authors recommend that those who are interested in developing mentor programs should consider contacting local colleges or universities, especially those that have teacher education programs. Professors at these institutions may encourage their students to become mentors and may even offer course credit for students who do so (38).

Paper Title:  Making a difference with at-risk students: The benefits of a mentoring program in middle school

Authors: Suzanne F. Lindt (Midwestern State University, Texas) and Cody Blair (PhD, University of North Texas)

Full Paper:

Published: Middle School Journal, Volume 48, No. 1, 2017, Pages 34-39

Photograph: Thanks to Lucas Lenzi on Unsplash

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