Mentoring at K-12 schools, whether by volunteers or school personnel, has been an increasingly popular choice for bringing caring adult and older peer relationships to the lives of more youth for several decades. The school setting is often seen as an opportunity for reaching larger numbers of youth in a controlled setting that also allows access to educational, recreational, and developmental supports that may enhance the mentoring relationship. School-based programs run the gamut of structures and goals:
- They can be delivered in one-to-one, group, or team formats, allowing for flexibility in activity offerings based on the number of available mentors and the resources available at the site. They can even involve the uses of older students as mentors in a “near peer” format.
- They often, because of the school setting, emphasize aims of facilitating academic gains or improvements in school connectedness and attendance by participating youth⎯although it’s worth noting that many school-based mentoring programs emphasize non-academic goals, such as personal growth, artistic expression, future planning and goal setting (often around the transition into college or career), and social-emotional development.
- They can be run directly by school personnel or through a partnership with a community-based service provider who coordinates the program on-site in collaboration with the school leadership.
Regardless of the structure, staffing, and goals of the program, mentoring programs in schools have shown to be a cost-efficient way of increasing the positive relationships students have in their lives, while also having the potential to boost factors that can lead to educational success, such as connectedness to the school environment and peers, improved relationships with teachers and staff, improved feelings of academic competence, and greater access and use of other supports, such as tutoring, credit tracking, counseling, and postsecondary planning.
What does the research say about school-based mentoring?
There have been many prominent evaluations of school-based mentoring programs that are worth noting:
- The 2007 study of Big Brothers Big Sisters school-based mentoring model found evidence that school-based mentoring programs could produce outcomes that were similar in size to those found in community-based programs, albeit in slightly different areas of emphasis. This study found evidence of statistically significant impacts primarily in school-related attitudes, performance, and behavior (such as attendance). Unfortunately, the study also found that programs had a difficult time providing a meaningful volume of mentoring during the school year and that the indicated impacts of the program did not appear to continue into the following year. Subsequent analysis found evidence that older students serving as peer mentors were notably less effective than their adult counterparts, draining some of the broader enthusiasm from a growing peer mentoring movement.
- A 2009 study of the U.S. Department of Education’s Student Mentoring Program reported statistically significant improvements for mentored youth compared to controls on a number of outcome measures, including perceived scholastic efficacy, truancy, and absenteeism. However, after correcting for potential capitalization on chance due to testing of effects for numerous outcomes, the authors concluded that there were no impacts on any of the student outcomes measured, either academic or social-emotional outcomes.
- The 2008 study of the SMILE program found statistically significant gains for mentored youth (compared to a control group) in several outcomes related to self-esteem and peer support, although the strength of these findings varied considerably based on age, gender, and race. Furthermore, no evidence of program impact at the level of the overall sample was found for any of 17 other outcomes tested in this study.
- More recently, a deeper analysis of Big Brothers Big Sister school-based mentoring data found evidence that relationship closeness (i.e., how close youth reported feeling to their mentors) was a key predictor of academic gains for participating youth. Notably, this same study found evidence that programs like this could achieve academic improvements for youth without emphasizing academics explicitly in program activities or in mentors’ approach, potentially freeing school-based programs to offer a wider variety of supports and activities while still meeting academic goals. This study also found evidence suggesting that youth could be effectively rematched within a school year provided that their second match was also close and satisfying to the youth.
- A meta-analysis by Wood and Mayo in 2012 synthesized findings from 6 evaluations of the impact of school-based mentoring for adolescents (11–18 years) on academic performance, attendance, attitudes, behavior, and self-esteem. The authors concluded that the mentoring programs included in this review did not reliably improve any of the outcomes examined.
It is also worth noting that DuBois and colleagues’ 2011 meta-analysis, which included mentoring programs of many types serving youth across a wide range of ages, found evidence of favorable program effects on youths’ grades, attendance, school behavior, and other academic growth.
What does the NMRC offer on school-based mentoring?
Reviews of Specific Programs
- The Achievement Mentoring Program is an intervention for urban freshman at risk of dropping out of high school, with the goal of enhancing school-related cognitions and behaviors. Read the review and insights for practitioners.
- An E-Mentoring Program for Secondary Students with Learning Disabilities intends to improve students’ ability to identify postsecondary career goals and the steps necessary to achieve them. Read the review and insights for practitioners.
- Brief Instrumental School-Based Mentoring Program is a school-based intervention designed for at-risk middle school students that aims to improve academic performance, promote school connectedness, and life satisfaction and to decrease disciplinary actions. Read the review and insights for practitioners.
- The Cross-Age Peer Mentoring Program is a school-based peer mentoring program in which high school students provide one-on-one mentoring to late elementary and early middle school students. Read the review and insights for practitioners.
- Experience Corps is a tutoring and mentoring program to improve the literacy outcomes of elementary school-aged children at risk of academic failure. Read the review and insights for practitioners.
- The Peer Group Connection (PGC) Program is a high school transition program that targets 9th-grade students in urban high schools who are at-risk of dropping out. The goal is to improve high school graduation rates among participating youths by having junior and senior high school students serve as peer mentors. Read the review and insights for practitioners.
- The Rochester Resilience Project (RRP) is a school-based intervention to improve the social-emotional and behavioral skills of young children (K-3rd grade) at risk for mental health disorders and substance abuse. Read the review and insights for practitioners.
- The School-Based Mentoring Program for At-Risk Middle School Youth is a one-to-one mentoring program offered to at-risk students in 7th to 9th grades in an urban middle school setting to reduce their discipline referrals and school absences and to improve their school connectedness. Read the review and the insights for practitioners.
- Sources of Strength is a school-based suicide prevention program designed to build socioecological-protective influences across a full student population, using youth opinion leaders from diverse social cliques to develop and deliver, with adult mentoring, messaging aimed at changing the norms and behaviors of their peers. Read the review and insights for practitioners.
- Career Academy is a school within a school that uses a multifaceted approach to foster academic success, mental and emotional health, and labor market success. Read the review.
Reviews of Relevant Practices
- School-based mentoring may involve acting on behalf of students to promote positive outcomes. Read the practice review of Support for Mentor Advocacy and insights for practitioners.
- School-based mentoring programs may provide structured activity curricula or guidance to mentors about activities they can do with mentees. Read the practice review of Mentor-Mentee Activity Guidance and insights for practitioners.
- School-Based Peer Mentoring: A Powerful Tool to Help Close the Mentoring Gap, by Daniel Oscar and Dr. Margo Ross of Center for Supportive Schools.
- Understanding Group Formation is Key to Successful Group Mentoring, by Vida Sanford of Mentoring for Success: Project Arrive, San Francisco Unified School District.
- ‘CHAMPIONS’ for Students at Broome Street Academy, by Dr. Barbara McKeon of Broome Street Academy.
- This guidebook, The ABCs of School-Based Mentoring, offers strategies for developing a school-based mentoring program, exploring many aspects of program design and implementation.
- The Peer Mentoring Handbook offers advice, strategies, and other information to older youth who will be serving as peer mentors to younger children in school and community settings.
- Ongoing Training for Mentors: Twelve Interactive Sessions for U.S. Department of Education Mentoring Programs offers activities that address key topics that can come up as mentoring relationships progress. These trainings are intended to support mentors as they encounter challenges and difficult circumstances while working with their mentees.
- Several other NMRC resources are relevant to any mentor or mentoring program seeking to support mentees in achieving their academic goals, including the College Positive Mentoring Toolkit, Discovering the Possibilities: “C”ing Your Future and the K-12 Journey Map.
Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP)’s Investments in
- The AARP Foundation’s Experience Corps Mentors Program, a school-based tutoring and mentoring program that seeks to improve the literacy outcomes of elementary school-aged children at risk of academic failure, is a 2015 OJJDP Mentoring Grantee. The Center for Supportive School’s Peer Group Connection (PGC) Program was also awarded OJJDP funding for their school-based peer mentoring program in 2015. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Wyoming and Be A Mentor, Inc. operate school-based mentoring programs and were funded by OJJDP in 2015 as well.
Select Additional Reading
- High School Mentors In Brief: Findings from the Big Brothers Big Sisters School-Based Mentoring Impact Study (Public/Private Ventures, 2009)
- Building Effective Peer Mentoring Programs in Schools: An Introductory Guide (Mentoring Resource Center, 2008)
- Making a Difference in Schools: The Big Brothers Big Sisters School-Based Mentoring Impact Study (Feldman, Grossman, Herrera, Jucovy, Kauh & McMaken, 2007)
- High School Mentors in Brief: Findings from the Big Brothers Big Sister School-Based Mentoring Impact Study (Herrera & Jucovy, 2009)
- Impact Evaluation of the U.S. Department of Education’s Student Mentoring Program (National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, 2009)
- Recent Randomized Trials of School-Based Mentoring: Making Sense of Mixed Findings (Wheeler, DuBois & Keller, 2010)
- The Study of Mentoring in the Learning Environment (SMILE): A Randomized Evaluation of the Effectiveness of School-Based Mentoring (Karcher, 2008)
- School-Based Mentoring Programs: Using Volunteers to Improve the Academic Outcomes of Underserved Students (Bayer, Grossman & DuBois, 2013)
- How Effective Are Mentoring Programs for Youth? A Systematic Assessment of the Evidence (DuBois, Portillo, Rhodes, Silverthorn & Valentine, 2011)