Mentoring Makes the Grade

By Cutshall, Sandy | Techniques, November/December 2001 | Go to article overview

Mentoring Makes the Grade


Cutshall, Sandy, Techniques


When the Summit for America's Future convened in 1997, it was a call to action to better provide for our nation's children. And first among the five fundamental resources identified to help young people be successful was the opportunity to have ongoing relationships with caring adults-parents, mentors, tutors or coaches. The label mentor often conjures an image of a caring "Big Brother" or "Big Sister" participating in a traditional community-based program. Yet, more and more mentoring programs today are being established within schools-with great success and with good reason.

Too many young people today are falling through the cracks. Each day in the United States, 3,600 students drop out of high school, and 2,700 unwed teenage girls get pregnant. Perhaps no one takes a special interest in them. For a variety of reasons, many parents can't or won't guide their children's behavior. Yet there is plenty of evidence to show that a single caring adult can make a difference in a child's life, even if this person is not a family member. Studies have shown:

Youth with mentors are 46 percent less likely to start using drugs, 27 percent less likely to start using alcohol, 33 percent less likely to commit acts of violence and 52 percent less likely to skip school.

* Sixty-five percent of children age 7 to 14 say they want to connect with an adult they can trust and who respects them.

Thirty-nine percent of male public school students and 43 percent of female students in grades 6-12 say they receive support from three or more non-parent adults.

There is a misperception that the only kids who need mentors are poor students in urban environments. However, when one looks at the incidences of school violence and drug abuse all throughout the country, it's clear that this is a myth.

According to Dr. Susan Weinberger (also known in the field as "Dr. Mentor"), "students who don't feel connected can certainly be from rural and suburban areas."

Dr. Weinberger, widely recognized as an expert on mentoring, is president of the Mentor Consulting Group and chairman of the Public Policy Council of the National Mentoring Partnership. She designed and developed the first school-based mentoring program in America in Norwalk, Connecticut, in the early 1980s.

She points out that, "In many affluent communities with latchkey kids, drug use and other problems can be swept under the rug. But the need is as great for mentors in affluent areas as in poor urban areas.

"Kids are neglected in every environment," says Weinberger.

Mentoring has taken place for genera tions, both inside and outside the classroom in both formal and informal settings. Teachers themselves often serve as mentors; however, even the most dedicated educator often cannot offer the continual, one-on-one support a student may need. Teachers may not have time or physical resources to provide enough attention, while all too often parents simply aren't there at all.

This has led to the development of well-established and respected programs such as Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America. Started in 1904, BB/BS is the nation's oldest and largest youth mentoring organization. Through this program, caring adult volunteers have helped millions of children in all 50 states. Its successful story has helped to establish the traditional model of community-based mentoring.

Made up of more than 495 agencies located across the country, Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America provides children and youth with adult role models and mentors who help enrich the children's lives, as well as their own, through weekly interaction.

Traditional mentoring such as this is marked by certain characteristics. Meetings generally take place on weekends, for three to four hours a week, within the community. Mentor and mentee pairs are same-sex, and mentors must be intensely screened, due to the lack of supervision in get-togethers. …

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