Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Wiz Kidz: Fostering School Connectedness through an In-School Student Mentoring Program

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Wiz Kidz: Fostering School Connectedness through an In-School Student Mentoring Program

Article excerpt

An intervention to improve school connectedness, mentoring can reach a broad range of children (Portwood & Ayers, 2005) by providing social bonding experiences and a sense of belonging while helping students develop stronger relationships to self and others (Karcher, 2005b). Defined by Hagerty, Lynch Sauer, Patusky, and Bouwsema (1993), "connectedness occurs when a person is actively involved with another person, object, group or environment, and that involvement promotes a sense of comfort, wellbeing, and anxiety reduction" (p. 293). Connectedness is not restricted to relationships and can apply to institutions, such as school, and has the capacity to further develop a student's social network (Karcher, Holcomb, & Zambrano, 2008). The school, as the primary institution outside of the home, is an environment that contributes to the guidance and influence of its students and where positive associations are reflected in adjustment and school climate (SimonsMorton, Crump, Haynie, & Saylor, 1999). Positive school climates create a cooperative peer environment, foster students' attachment to their school, and provide a space where students believe their teachers are supportive and protective of them; students with weak attachment to school reject these messages (Smith, 2012).

Engaging students through bonding opportunities within the school encourages prosocial behavior and commitment to academic achievement, protects from a loss in ambition and susceptibility to misbehavior (SimonsMorton et al., 1999; Tolan, Henry, Schoeny, Lovegrove, & Nichols, 2014), and may counter the normal decline in student connectedness to school observed through the progression of the school year (Karcher, 2005b). Wellborn (2013) said, "One way to address student motivation, especially in unmotivated students, is to increase the involvement, structure, and autonomy support in school and in the learning process" (p. 40).

School-based mentoring programs can offer a range of developmental foci that encourage positive attitudes toward school, much beyond solely treating an identified problem or assisting with academics (Karcher, 2005a, 2014). Although limited, current research suggests that school-based mentoring enhances students' connectedness to school (Karcher, 2005b; Karcher, Davis, & Powell, 2002; King, Vidourek, Davis, & McClellan, 2002; Portwood & Ayers, 2005; Portwood, Ayers, Kinnison, Waris, & Wise, 2005), teachers (Chan et al., 2013), parents (Chan et al., 2013; Karcher, 2005b), family (King et al., 2002), and community (Portwood et al., 2005). Schoolbased mentoring also is considered a key variable for protective social factors (Battistich & Horn, 1997; Chan et al., 2013), leading to such skills as coping and resilience. Students engaged in high-quality mentoring programs are associated with improved academic attitudes, self-esteem and prosocial behaviors (Chan et al., 2013).

The Wiz Kidz in-school student mentoring program involved 24 participants who met weekly during the lunch hour from October through June of the 2013-2014 school year. The program operated under the supervision of the school support counselor, whose role is to address school mental health and emotional issues, crisis situations, parenting and family issues, and conflict resolution through advocacy and individual, family, and group counseling. The goal of the Wiz Kidz program was to foster student engagement as a means to increase connectedness for both the mentors and mentees, while at the same time broadening social skill development, teaching problem-solving skills, and building empathic relationships. An example of practitioner research, the current study explored an in-school mentoring program's influence on promoting elementary school-aged mentors' and mentees' connectedness to school, peers, and teachers, and provided qualitative accounts of the real lived experiences in the program.

STUDENT MENTORING

Although typically not equipped with the same breadth of life experience and maturity of most adult mentors, in-school youth mentors are more accessible to younger mentees and their valuable insights and potential for positive influence qualify them for the role in dyadic relationships. …

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