Mentors High School
Mentors High School – The Importance of High-School Mentors
Mentors High School – When it comes to helping young people succeed, education experts and nonprofits are embracing the idea that a broad web of formal and informal role models is key.
Mentors High School – ALYZA SEBENIUS , JAN 13, 2016
In her job as a “dream director,” Jessica Valoris is tasked with unleashing the potential of disadvantaged students at an inner-city high school in Washington, D.C. Her employer, a New York-based nonprofit called The Future Project, embeds mentors like Valoris in public schools, characterizing her role as a “midwife of dreams” and “warrior of possibility.” The Atlantic’s video team has documented the power that mentors like Valoris can have at a defining juncture in the lives of disadvantaged young people: high school.
Serious risks like homelessness, suspension, early parenthood, and a lack of academic confidence threaten to derail poor, young Americans on their path toward high-school graduation. Yet stories like this one, and a growing body of research—including a study last year by America’s Promise Alliance, which found that students with social support are more likely to re-engage with school in the face of adversity—suggest that the United States should invest broadly in mentorship.
“Just as the federal government can see something like health care as a basic need, mentoring should be that, too,” said David Shapiro, the CEO of The National Mentoring Partnership, a founding partner of America’s Promise Alliance that, among other things, advocates for federal funding. “Having consistent support, outside home is essential.” Experts emphasize that mentorship entails much more than offering compassion to a child; mentors serve a range of needs, from ensuring access to food and other basic resources to setting academic expectations. But how scalable are its current models?
Formal mentorship is currently supported by philanthropy and federal agencies including the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and the Corporation for National and Community Service. In the fiscal year 2015, OJJDP granted $90 million to mentoring organizations to support at-risk youth across the country—a sum sufficient to cover hundreds of thousands of students but not sufficient for need, according to Shapiro.
But other limitations, beyond funding challenges, make it difficult to expand such programs. For one, mentorship programs aren’t always effective. (In some cases they can even prove harmful, particularly when it comes to mentoring relationships that terminate prematurely.) For another, a prevailing thread among education experts today is that a single mentor isn’t sufficient. “We’re too enamored with the idea of the heroic volunteer who swoops in,” said Marc Freedman, the author of the influential 1999 book, The Kindness of Strangers: Adult Mentors, Urban Youth, and the New Volunteerism.
Indeed, education experts and nonprofits are embracing the idea that a broad web of formal and informal mentors is key to successfully serving young people. “This changes the conversation from ‘You have to be everyone to someone,’ to ‘You have to be someone to everyone,’” said Jonathan Zaff, the executive director of the Center for Promise, echoing an argument recently put forth by the Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam in his book Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis. In an email, Putnam, who in his book notes that privileged youth are two to three times more likely to have an informal mentor outside of their family, said that “kids from working-class homes need more caring adults in their lives.” Disadvantaged students, he said, often lack access to the range of role models available to their more privileged peers—such as coaches, clergy, neighbors, or family friends. Absent these advisors, underprivileged students may be deprived of the kinds of information necessary for navigating and thriving in large institutions like colleges—for exercising what Putnam described as “savvy.”
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