“People want to be a mentor so that they can make a difference.”
Jacque Anderson, a graduate student in the College of Education’s School Psychology program, supervises 22 UH student-mentors at a Houston-area charter middle school. The one-on-one sessions span 12 weeks and are deliberate, structured and successful. It’s part of a program of research that is attempting to improve the impact of this widely popular service.
“Mentoring programs for school-aged children have grown in the past two decades, but their effectiveness has not kept pace with their popularity,” said Samuel McQuillin, assistant professor in the College of Education and the study’s principal investigator. “Nationally, there are very few programs that provide meaningful training and ongoing supervision, which may set mentors up for failure, particularly if they are working with children who have complex needs and come from different backgrounds than the mentors.”
McQuillin, of the Department of Psychological, Health and Learning Sciences, school psychology program, suggests that school-based mentoring programs often fail because they lack mentor training, time and a research foundation.
“While community-based mentoring programs have been shown to be effective, the largest form of mentoring — school-based mentoring — has produced small, null and sometimes harmful results,” he said. “We believe that one way to address this is by developing models of mentoring that are brief, effective and reproducible.”
Community-based mentoring programs typically aim to improve the student’s social and emotional development by meeting frequently and developing a long-term relationship. But in the school setting the meetings between a student and his mentor may be less frequent. In his study McQuillin presented findings from a series of revisions and evaluations of an “intentionally brief” school-based mentoring program.
In the study, 72 middle school students were divided, with about half participating in the mentoring project and the other group continuing with their regular school routine. Mentors applied for their positions and completed a mentor training program and performance test requirements. Training involved an online training module and in-person training at the mentoring site. The mentoring sessions all were overseen by trained supervisors. Mentors also receive manuals that contain the structure of eight mentoring sessions over 12 weeks. There’s no “winging it” in these sessions. However, there are planned times for unstructured activities designed to be fun for the mentee and help develop a positive youth-focused relationship.
“Before mentoring even starts, we are trained, we get manuals and we have a supervisor, which enhances the program,” said Becca Johnson, UH grad student and program mentor. “The manual lets us show progressions and lets us focus on specific things so that students have a successful experience. These supports make the difference.”
The manual has exercises on values, goals and priorities and helps the students (referred to as protégés) adopt “self-regulated learning skills.” There also are sessions about behaviors and consequences.
After the 12-week program, students in the mentoring group saw increases in their math and English grades, compared with the students who did not receive the mentoring. Additionally, students reported more satisfaction with their life and fewer absences in school. Their results were based on school academic records, behavior records and students self-surveys on life satisfaction.
The approach is being replicated in some middle schools in Arkansas and may also be tried in schools in South Carolina.
“We have buy-in from the school. It’s an organized family of supervisors and mentors and protégés. We check in on each other. It gives the kids something to look forward to, even though some of their challenges are really tough,” Anderson said. “But most importantly we have accountability with the manual. With these things, I think the program could work for anybody.”