Magazine article The Elementary STEM Journal

School-Based Mentoring: High School Students Mentor Elementary Students

Magazine article The Elementary STEM Journal

School-Based Mentoring: High School Students Mentor Elementary Students

Article excerpt

The need for more STEM-based (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) instruction at the elementary level is critical.

Researchers have confirmed that approximately 40% of students in the United States are not ready for kindergarten upon entry and continue to lack requisite mathematics and science skills when they reach fourth grade. Only 34% of fourth grade students attained "At or Above Proficient" scores on the science section of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), while a mere 40% scored in the same range on the mathematics portion (STEM Smart, 2013). These sub-par indicators are most certainly due to lack of exposure to engaging STEM activities and lessons. Current school readiness data, including achievement indicators in mathematics and science, suggest that young students are not being provided with the support they need to be successful STEM students; what has yet to be presented is a successful intervention to rectify the problem. As elementary school provides the foundation for future educational success, it makes sense to explore potential pitfalls and interventions here first.

Through a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop reported that a lack of effective exposure to the STEM disciplines in the K-5 space may be attributed to uncertainty from teachers and parents. While "[m]any parents and teachers experience anxiety, low self-confidence, and gendered assumptions about STEM topics, which can transfer to their children and students," they "appear to be enthusiastic and capable of supporting early STEM learning; however, they require additional knowledge and support to do so effectively" (McClure, Guernsey, Clements, Bales, Nichols, Kendall-Taylor, & Levine, 2017). To improve students' STEM readiness, we as a field need to find a way to neutralize the transference of adults' anxiety and negative perceptions of STEM fields.

mentoring as a solution

The concept of having mentors for elementary students has been used in education for decades, especially for at-risk students. School-based mentoring programs often recruit community members as volunteer mentors and tutors for students. Becoming increasingly popular are peer mentoring programs in which high school students mentor elementary or middle school students, which has been an untapped resource for most schools. Peer-mentoring provides an opportunity for educators to leverage the expertise of high school students participating in STEM programs of study to provide mentorship and guidance to elementary students without enhancing any "STEM-anxiety" they may already be experiencing. This symbiotic relationship can benefit both the high schoolers and elementary schoolers alike.

Mentoring provides benefits to mentors and mentees, as both develop emotional support and friendships, improved self-esteem and confidence, an increase in their set of knowledge and skills, and an enhanced social network (Barton-Arwood, Jolivette, & Massey, 2000; Fishman, Stelk, & Clark, 1997; Utley, Mortweet, & Greenwood, 1997). Additionally, with established roles in student-led mentorship, students have heightened comprehension in their content area (Goodrich, 2017; Shields, 2001).

As mentees, students are growing by learning and practicing new skills with a trusted friend. They can also see mentors as role models through modeled appropriate behavior and experiencing multiple interactions with individuals of different backgrounds, learning and practicing the expected norms of the environments (Barton-Arwood, et al., 2000). Those benefits to the mentee are important, but mentors can also benefit from the process. Mentors have improved self-esteem by modeling appropriate skills and knowledge to another peer, increased opportunities to interact with peers with different backgrounds, and gain experience in public service (Barton-Arwood, et al. …

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