Cross-Age Mentoring Program (CAMP)
*Note: The National Mentoring Resource Center makes these “Insights for Mentoring Practitioners” available for each program or practice reviewed by the National Mentoring Resource Center Research Board. Their purpose is to give mentoring professionals additional information and understanding that can help them apply reviews to their own programs. You can read the full review on the Crime Solutions website.
In considering the key takeaways from the research on this program that other mentoring programs can apply to their work, it’s useful to reflect on the features and practices that might have influenced its rating as “Promising” (that is, a program that shows some evidence that it achieves justice-related goals when implemented with fidelity).
An emphasis on “connectedness” and how youth relate to the world around them
One of the most compelling aspects of the CAMP model is the role that “connectedness” plays in the design and delivery of the program services. Many mentoring programs generally claim to emphasize making mentees feel more “connected” to other people and their communities. This seems to be almost inherent in programs that intentionally pair youth with new caring adults (or, in the case of CAMP, teenage mentors).
But the CAMP model brings this notion of connectedness to the forefront. The program theory builds on previous research demonstrating that successes in school and decreases in risky behavior are more likely when youth express feelings of connection to the people, places, and activities in their lives. And this definition of “connectedness” goes beyond just simply “liking” somebody or somethingit also includes the notion of active engagement and support seeking. This form of active connectedness is baked into the curriculum-based activities and mentor-mentee interactions in the CAMP program. The activities are designed to help youth with both their social and perspective-taking skills, allowing them to feel more comfortable interacting with the world around them and to be able to relate better with other individuals, such as teachers, family members, and peers. The structure of the mentor-mentee interactions also promotes connectedness by allowing participant to openly share their feelings about their mentoring relationships (both positive and negative), express feelings of support, and practice saying “goodbye” to one another so that feelings of connectedness between mentor and mentee don’t evaporate at the end of the match. By helping mentees connect to and better navigate their world, CAMP promotes true development of the mentee and builds skills that should help long after program involvement. The evaluations of CAMP to date have shown that it can promote connectedness in mentees, especially in the domains of school and family. Programs that want to measure their own results around notions of connectedness may want to use the same measure as the CAMP evaluations: The Hemingway Measure of Adolescent Connectedness, which can be accessed online at: http://adolescentconnectedness.com/.
A “super” way of involving parents...
One unique aspect of the CAMP model is the structured way that it involves parents and extends the mentoring experience. The program uses what are called “Super Saturday” events as a primary way of involving parents in the program and further promoting notions of connectedness and positive social interaction. These all-day events bring mentees and their families together with mentors and program staff once a month for a Saturday of games, food, and other activities. This gives parents a chance to get to know the mentor and staff and allows the mentees to connect their mentoring experience to the relationships they have at home. In one version of CAMP implementation, these Super Saturdays are a nice supplement to the every-week mentoring experience and can bridge these matches over the summer months. In the “faraway” version of the program (mostly implemented in rural areas where transportation is a challenge) these events actually form the heart of the intervention, with most mentor-mentee interactions taking place at Saturday events, with an increase in frequency over the summer months. Programs looking to increase parent involvement without the challenges associated with mid-day or afterschool events may want to consider creating a fun and engaging Super Saturday of their own as a way of bridging the worlds of school and home and allowing parents to see their youth participating in this new kind of friendship with an older student or adult.
Allowing peer mentors to truly own the program
Because CAMP takes its “developmental” approach to heart, it’s also important to recognize the ways in which it may promote the growth and development of the peer mentors. In fact, one of the neat things about the CAMP model is that the full implementation of the program would ideally allow youth to start in the program as elementary-age mentees, then transition into middle school protégées (mentors in training, essentially), before finishing out the program as high school-age mentors. Michael Karcher, developer of the CAMP program, describes this as “walking up the developmental ladder” and has designed the program to facilitate the journey from mentee to eventual mentor. CAMP can be implemented without all of these transitional layers (more as a typical high school-to-elementary student peer mentoring structure). But, for districts that could facilitate the full implementation, CAMP offers a great way of fostering multi-year involvement with youth changing their role over time. One can imagine that high school mentors who once served as mentees might really understand the value and approach of the program and would take their stewardship of the program seriously.
The other way that CAMP seeks to provide peer mentors with ownership of the program is by giving them an active role in designing new activities for matches to do together. The implementation materials for CAMP do provide a 36-week curriculum of meaningful activities. But the adults running the program are strongly encouraged to allow the peer mentors to make changes to the activities and suggest new ones from year to year. This gives them an active role in customizing the program to their local circumstances and needs, while providing a great leadership opportunity and a chance to “own” the future of the program.
Because the peer mentors are allowed to guide and shape the program to this degree, they may benefit from the experience as much as the mentees. In fact, a 2009 evaluation of CAMP found that peer mentors improved in their own reported feelings of academic connectedness and self-esteem compared to a similar group of students not participating in the program. Thus CAMP can be viewed as a model that may produce meaningful outcomes for multiple groups of youth simultaneously.
For more information on research-informed program practices and tools for implementation, be sure to consult the Elements of Effective Practice for Mentoring™ and the "Resources for Mentoring Programs" section of the National Mentoring Resource Center site.