The project is unique in that it is embedded in a structured, for-credit class, which meets during the regular school day, with YA providing the class facilitator/instructor. Mentors are high school juniors and seniors who sign up for a year-long course that blends classroom-based instruction with service learning. The course is predicated on achieving positive youth outcomes for both mentors and mentees. For the older youth the overarching goal is to develop knowledgeable, compassionate, and skilled mentors who learn to apply problem-solving, advocacy and leadership skills to benefit their younger peers. In addition, the course provides opportunities for exploring careers in education and youth development. For the freshman mentees, the goal is to offer structured, peer-guided information and support that increases mentees’ sense of connection to school and, ultimately, improves their attendance.
This first year of the project, 20 mentoring students and 40 mentees participated in the experiment. The mentors spent the first semester learning about student disengagement and other education-related topics from YA staff and guest speakers from the community. They also engaged in extensive in-class exercises, such as role playing, to develop the skills they would need to be an effective “near-peer” mentor and advocate for their mentee. Three Youth Ambassador mentors were invited on an all-expense-paid trip to attend the 3rd Annual America’s Promise Alliance Grad Nation Summit in Washington DC. The Summit is supporting a nationwide campaign to end the high school dropout crisis and prepare young people for college and the 21st century workforce. The three participants shared information they gained at the Grad Nation Summit with their fellow mentors at Cleveland, infusing the peer mentoring project with additional energy and ideas.
Mid-year, after several months of initial training, the would-be mentors met potential freshman mentees, who all had problems with chronic absenteeism. In a twist to the traditional approach to matching a mentee and mentor, the mentees themselves got to select with whom they wished to work. Giving mentees a say in the process undoubtedly helped motivate them to stick with their matches. Mentees also received encouragement in the form of small stipends and prizes provided through the Be There Get There campaign. The school facilitated the mentoring process by providing space where the pairs could meet weekly during a 45-minute advisory time period. All matches were expected to meet weekly; in some cases, where the match relationship was especially strong, mentors and mentees also got together at lunch or other times, as well.
Was the first year a success? It’s still a little too early to tell. A formal evaluation will be completed once the school year is over and the research results will provide a fuller picture of the project. But the initial evidence is encouraging. None of the 40 mentees dropped out of the program or out of school. Almost all the mentees improved their attendance and grades—some making significant strides in both areas. Building upon the experiences of this first year, Cleveland plans to extend this promising project another year, using City of Seattle school levy monies to hire a full-time certified teacher. At least one other school that has heard about Cleveland’s experiences is interested in trying something similar. The approach appears to have great potential for improving outcomes for both mentees and mentors. However, even if the experiment proves wildly successful, it won’t be sustainable over time unless schools figure out a way to fund it as a regular part of their programming. For more information on the project, contact Lori at firstname.lastname@example.org .