Students Connect with Mentors through E-Mail: Through an Innovative Use of the Technology of the Internet, Schools and Mentoring Programs Are Pairing Students with Mentors

Article excerpt

A good mentor can give a student that one-on-one attention that can play a key role in motivating them to succeed or even to stay in school, but good mentors are hard to find. Many working adults can't commit to mentoring relationships because of hectic schedules. Now that's changing, thanks to the Internet. E-mail, online or telementoring are making it possible for busy professionals to connect with students.

"Alumni and professionals who are unable to meet with students face to face can readily provide advice, suggestions and support to students while sitting at their desks at home or in the office," according to NetMentors.org, an Arlington, Virginia-based nonprofit organization that coordinates e-mail mentoring programs for students and for schools.

Since the mid-1990s, nonprofit organizations such as iMentor, NetMentors.org and the International Telementor Program (www.telementor.org) have sprung up to connect--via the Internet--students with working adults. Since then, traditional mentoring organizations including Big Brothers/Big Sisters and the National Mentoring Partnership have added online components to their programs.

The following are examples of how one middle school and one high school are using e-mentoring to support their students.

Another Caring Adult

Cecelia Snyder Middle School, Bensalem, Pennsylvania, has had success with the local Big Brothers/Big Sisters' school-based program, in which volunteer mentors meet two to four times per month with students at the school during or after school. But there weren't very many mentors, so Principal James Lynch, along with two guidance counselors, came up with the idea of developing an e-mail mentoring program that would enable more working professionals to participate in the program.

"I always wondered why it was so difficult to get adults to participate," says Lynch. "I thought that it was probably extremely difficult for them to do it because of time. I approached Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Bucks County about giving e-mail mentoring a try."

Snyder's mentors are employees of the Atlantic 10 Conference, a local employer that is a college athletic conference. Snyder already had a relationship with the organization as its "adopted school." Guidance counselors met with Lynch and representatives from Big Brothers/Big Sisters to select students who have potential but could use the support of another adult in their lives. For example, a student may come from a single-parent home in which the parent works more than one job, says Leonette Boiarski, director of programs for Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Bucks County.

"We're living in a society where grandma and grandpa are not always around," says Boiarski. The goal of the program is to provide middle school students with another adult role model. "The program's focus is on developing a relationship, as opposed to being tutorial," she explains. Mentors are responsible for initiating conversation with the students and are trained by Big Brothers/Big Sisters to facilitate communication and establish trust.

The Atlantic 10 employees are trained by Big Brothers/Big Sisters who meet with the mentors on site for interviews and screening. "We look at motivation and why they are interested in becoming a mentor," says Boiarski. "We look for consistency and dependability. We look for similarity or perhaps a strength that the volunteer has to offer. If a volunteer is outgoing, we may match him or her with a student who needs development in that particular area."

Students communicate with their e-mail mentors at least once a week on computers in the school library. The librarian monitors the process to make sure computers are available, and the students log on regularly to communicate with their mentors.

Big Brothers/Big Sisters also monitors the program. Students and mentors adhere to certain guidelines, such as students can only e-mail from school, not from home; and mentors must contact Big Brothers/Big Sisters if they suspect students need specialized, expert help. …