Academic journal article School Community Journal

The Effects of Developmental Mentoring on Connectedness and Academic Achievement

Academic journal article School Community Journal

The Effects of Developmental Mentoring on Connectedness and Academic Achievement

Article excerpt


Concerns about adolescent risk taking and school underachievement remain high. Such problems are increasingly viewed as products of students' disconnectedness from school, teachers, peers, and parents. One response to this crisis of disconnection is to develop programs that promote youths' sense of belonging and keep them connected during periods of transition. This article reports a one-year longitudinal study of developmental mentoring, a school-based intervention that enlists high school students as mentors to elementary school students. The findings from this study suggest that the developmental mentoring program promoted conventional connectedness to parents, school, and the future, and that program effects on spelling achievement scores were mediated by maintenance of parental connectedness into middle school. Implications for school programs to involve families as a way to promote connectedness and achievement in schools are discussed.


When children's environments, abilities, or behaviors threaten to jeopardize their developmental processes or academic success, they are viewed as being at risk for interpersonal problems and underachievement. Increasingly, society recognizes that at-risk youth are developing within a crisis of disconnectedness (Chaskin & Hawley, 1994). Many youth are becoming more isolated from the larger community of consistent and supportive relationships that are so pivotal to social and emotional development. Sociocultural changes that include diminishing family roles, the transfer of family caretaking responsibilities to already overburdened schools, and the lack of community resources for youth suggest that there is a growing need to provide youth with more meaningful relationships as a way of creating a sense of community within schools (Dryfoos, 1991; Hamburg, 1994; Jason & Kobayashi, 1995).

Promoting connectedness has become an important focus of school-based intervention programs (e.g., Allen, Kuperminc, Philliber, & Herre, 1994) and a promising mechanism for promoting school achievement among high-risk youth (Bonny, Britto, Klostermann, Hornung, & Slap, 2000; Hendry & Reid, 2000; Resnick et al. 1997). Connectedness reflects youths' time spent with others and their attitudes toward those in their schools and families (Karcher, 2001). Connectedness conveys the degree to which youth find the people and places in their lives personally meaningful and important (Kohut, 1971; Lee & Robbins, 1995). Therefore connectedness may explain the effectiveness of prevention and intervention programs like mentoring.

The Impact of Mentoring on Children's Achievement and Connectedness in Schools

Mentoring is one vehicle for alleviating this disconnection by providing a meaningful, ongoing relationship between a child and an older, caring person (Walker & Freedman, 1996). Through role modeling and discussions of values, mentors can promote their mentees' connectedness by increasing the mentees' activity with and caring for other people and particular social worlds, like their schools, their families, and their futures. Mentoring as a form of prevention in the schools, however, has only recently become the focus of systematic study (DuBois, Holloway, Valentine, & Cooper, 2002; DuBois & Neville, 1997; Rhodes, 1994; Rhodes, Grossman, & Resch, 2000).

Developmental Mentoring in the Schools

In response to the need to develop both adolescents' and children's connectedness, we have been investigating the use of a form of student-to-student mentoring in which high school students volunteer to mentor elementary or middle school students either after school or on weekends. We call this the developmental mentoring program (Karcher, 2000). The program is developmental because it promotes the psychosocial development of both adolescent mentors and preadolescent mentees in two ways. First, both mentors and mentees develop social skills and experience interpersonal support that serves to promote their self-esteem and connectedness to school. …

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