Academic journal article Middle School Journal

Making a Difference with At-Risk Students: The Benefits of a Mentoring Program in Middle School

Academic journal article Middle School Journal

Making a Difference with At-Risk Students: The Benefits of a Mentoring Program in Middle School

Article excerpt

This We Believe characteristics:

* Every student's academic and personal development is guided by an adult advocate

* Comprehensive guidance and support services meet the needs of young adolescents

* The school includes community and business partners

As students in middle school encounter and struggle with social and emotional changes that occur during this transitionary period to adulthood, many educators seek to help students develop skills and dispositions-such as resilience, perseverance, and determination-to ensure that they can problem-solve and work through challenges as well as take ownership of their learning and decisions (National Middle School Association [NMSA], 2010). In order to provide all students with opportunities to develop such skills and dispositions during this transitionary period, many schools implement mentoring programs, which provide meaningful opportunities to help students develop into responsible adults.

Multiple research studies document the social and emotional benefits that middle school students receive through mentoring programs, especially those students at risk of not completing high school (Komosa-Hawkins, 2012). Various mentoring programs exist which seek to provide middle school students with positive role models; however, mentor and mentee relationship development is critical in producing an effective relationship. Research findings about mentoring programs suggest that mentoring programs focusing on building strong and meaningful relationships between mentor and mentee may have the greatest benefit to adolescents (Larose et al., 2010), and that those programs with specific goals for mentors may provide the greatest benefit to mentees in middle school (Pryce, 2012). Relationships that focus on building a supportive relationship between the mentor and mentee and establishing autonomy and relatedness for the mentee may provide the most benefit to at-risk students during the period of adolescence (Larose, Cyrenne, Garceau, Brodeur, &Tarabulsy, 2010). As educators seek to improve the social and emotional development of young adolescents, developing strong mentoring programs may provide a benefit to students and those in the community (NMSA, 2010).

A setting for mentoring

At a middle school in a large Southern city, the realities of low socioeconomic status adolescents' challenges with social and emotional development are similar to those in other parts of the country. Most students at the school are considered as living below the poverty level. Leaders in the school witnessed students' ever-declining grades and increasing truancy and discipline referrals, which prompted them to create a mentoring program to provide students with role models as mentors from the local college. As advocates of the community, the author and school administrators worked together to create a program with student volunteers. As a professor in the college of education, the author asked for volunteers to mentor students in the program as a way to gain experience working with youth and as a service to the community. Mentors were asked to volunteer for one semester, though many volunteered for a longer period of time. At the conclusion of the semester, mentors wrote a reflection to explain how their mentees developed during the semester-long experience. Following the 3-year partnership, the gradual transformation of the middle school students was evident; students began to develop ownership and interest in their education, grades increased, and truancy decreased.

By providing students with role models who have made choices to attend the local college, many of the students participating in the mentoring program began to believe that they could also attend college, have careers, and live meaningful lives. As schools and colleges work together, middle level students may have greater opportunities to learn from responsible adults whom they can trust. This article discusses previous research findings about mentoring programs and describes the beneficial outcomes that resulted from one specific mentoring program. …

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