Rethinking Mentoring as an Interventionist Model: An Analysis of the Educational Impact of Mentoring Programs
Abstract: The number of mentoring programs has been exponentially growing over the last decade. Mentoring is often championed as a useful academic interventionist model for at-risk students who are struggling in schools. Yet, a look at the academic literature on the impact of mentoring shows that there is little consensus on what the educational benefits of mentoring are on those mentored. This paper works to elucidate why there has been so many differences in findings among scholars in their study of non-academic mentoring programs. The paper concludes on policy recommendations based on findings.
Ben and I sat in our usual stall in the corner of the restaurant. “We’ll have two chocolate milkshakes,” Ben ordered enthusiastically. It was Monday evening, and we were scheduled to read together for an hour at the local diner in Middletown. Conscious of the ticking clock, I picked up the book from the Goosebumps series in front of us right after the waitress left and asked him if he remembered where in the story we had left off. Ben eagerly answered, pausing between sentences as he searched in his head for what had taken place in the novel so far. After a thorough review, Ben began reading aloud. We had established a routine in which we would go back and forth reading a page each. I was trying to get Ben to read more confidently and coherently, pausing as needed to sound out words that he did not know how to read. It was surely a slow process, but compared to our first meeting he was now reading much more assertively and was showing much more confidence in sounding out unknown words by breaking them down into syllables.
Before discussing how we ended up in the corner booth of the local diner on a weekly basis, please allow me to quickly backtrack. I have been Ben’s mentor since the first semester of my freshman year at Wesleyan University. I was lucky enough to have been matched up with him when I volunteered to be a mentor through the North End Action Team (NEAT) mentoring program at my college. Having hung out together at least once a week during the school year for the last four years (minus a semester when I studied abroad), Ben and I have established a very strong relationship built upon trust, respect and care for one another. Having met Ben when he was eight years old and in third grade, it’s amazing to see how much he has grown over the last few years
The NEAT mentoring program matches up students aged from six to ten from a poor neighborhood called the North End with Wesleyan students. The children in the program are students considered to be at-risk. Most of them come from low-income and unstable families. Many of the students involved in the program only have one immediate parent looking after them. Upon being matched with one of these children, Wesleyan students are expected to meet up with their mentee at least once a week for at least an hour. Mentors are allowed to do anything with their mentee, as long as it is safe and allows the opportunity for them to converse with their respective mentees. However, mentors are discouraged from engaging in too many academic activities, such as regular tutoring. Through avoiding such a teacher-student relationship, the program pushes mentors to establish a more open dynamic with their mentees in the hopes that such a relationship would foster a stronger and more honest bond than a formal teacher-student relationship, in which mentees would be more inclined to open up to their mentors.
Given this discouragement, I had consciously stayed away from tutoring or getting too involved in Ben’s school work for our first three and half years together. Instead, we explored the Middletown area and did other fun activities, such as going bowling, roller-skating, playing video games and going on hikes. Although I deliberately avoided taking too much of a direct educational interest in my mentee, I always believed that by serving as his mentor that I make a positive long-lasting educational impact in his life. I presumed that the program, having been modeled after the well known Big Brothers and Big Sisters mentoring program, would make similar educational impact on the lives of students, as often claimed by the organization (Grossman and Tierney 1998). I was also aware of some research claiming that non-academic mentors play crucial roles in building self –confidence in mentees, which in turn leads to academic improvements (Williams 2013). With these considerations in mind, I believed that even as a non-academic mentor, I would be making an educational impact in Ben’s life.
I found out senior year that the educational impact I presumed to be having in Ben’s life was close to non-existent. I, by chance, was placed in Ben’s sixth grade English class when I applied to observe a Middletown middle school teacher for a class I took during my first semester of senior year. Having landed in my mentee’s class by serendipity, it didn’t take me long to realize that Ben was struggling academically. It was particularly evident in a long-term project called Flocabulary that the class was working on. The teacher had divided the class into groups and each group was given lyrics to a rhythmic rap song that they had to simultaneously sing and act out. Ben was having a hard time reading and memorizing the lyrics and fell more and more behind each day that his group worked on the project. A conversation with his teacher confirmed that his reading skills were indeed far below his grade level.
It was around the same time I learned of Ben’s academic shortcomings that I found out from Ben’s mother that his brother was on the verge of failing high school. Such news concerned me deeply, as Ben’s brother had gone through the same mentoring program when he was younger that Ben and I are currently part of. Similar to Ben, his brother had a Wesleyan mentor for four years. Having heard so much praise about the mentor from Ben’s family, I knew that it was someone who had been extremely committed to Ben’s brother. Yet, even with a highly committed mentor, the educational benefits that non-tutoring mentoring were supposed to provide were not realized for Ben’s brother in the long run. I began to ask myself, would Ben ultimately end up on the same path as his brother?
I knew that given the low socio-economic class of Ben’s family that my mentee already had the odds stacked against him in life. I personally believed that education was not something my mentee could give up on, nor did his mother. I then decided that I would do everything I could to try to catch up Ben in his schooling – and so began our weekly nights at the local diner during my second semester of senior year.
Only a month into our reading sessions together, I began noticing improvements in Ben’s ability to read. Although I am not an education specialist by any means, I can tell that my mentee is much more comfortable with reading in general and is slowly starting to improve on his pronpunciation when reading. He is beginning to pick up on how to sound out words by himself. Seeing these incremental improvements, I regret not taking a more direct interest in his learning earlier on. Furthermore, these reading sessions makes me wonder if Ben would have been better off engaged in another interventionist program. Since being matched up, Ben and I have spent about four hours together weekly, roughly about 640 hours together in my last four years with him. Perhaps Ben would have benefited more academically if my extensive time with him had been spent on a more academically oriented program.
My experience with the NEAT mentoring program makes me skeptical of the educational benefits that non-academic mentoring programs purport to have. For my mentee and his brother, these educational benefits seemed to be non-existent. Of course, it should be acknowledged that all mentoring relationships are unique and it is possible that my mentee and his brother are exceptions in the overall educational benefits experienced by vulnerable youth who are mentored. However, I do not think that this is the case. I believe that the academic story of my mentee and his brother are not exceptions but rather the norm in non-academic mentoring programs. That is to say that contrary to what programs like Big Brothers and Big Sisters advertise, I suspect that there are actually very little or no academic benefits to be obtained through non-academic mentoring programs.
This paper will explore the scholarly literature on the academic impact of mentoring for at-risk students to determine whether academic benefits purported by organizations like Big Brothers and Big Sisters really do exist. Research was undertaken to answer the following research question: does non-academic mentoring have notable academic benefits for those mentored who are considered at-risk? Search of phrases like, “the educational impact of non-academic mentoring” and, “educational benefits of mentoring,” in notable scholarly databases such as JSTOR showed that countless of studies have been done to answer this research question. My preliminary research found that many of them reached conflicting conclusions. Oddly, the literature examined showed that scholars have not taken the moment to fully understand why these discrepancies exist in research findings. This paper will contribute to the academic literature at hand by trying to elucidate why these differences in research findings exist and also trying to reach a bottom –line, if there is any, of what the educational benefits of mentoring are by looking at a wide range of research already completed. I believe that the findings of my research will be valuable, as a vast amount of resources are being currently directed into mentoring programs with the presumption that these programs can drastically help vulnerable students in their academics. Obama’s new mentoring initiative is just one instance in which public funding is being channeled into mentoring programs. Given that both public and private funding for interventionist programs of at-risk students are limited, it is imperative that we clearly establish that our finite resources are going into the right programs to best help these students. This paper will be a means of cutting through the current hype surrounding mentoring programs and assessing the worth of mentoring programs as an academic interventionist model for at-risk students.
This extensive literature review is organized as followed. There will be a discussion of at-risk students following the introduction. The next section will look into how mentoring can academically help at-risk youth in theory. The fourth section of the paper will outline findings from the literature review on the academic impact of mentoring. It will then be followed by a discussion of suggested future research and policy implications. The paper will conclude with suggestions on how to improve the currently disjointed academic literature of mentoring programs.
At – Risk Youth
There is no consensus among researchers on a definition of at-risk youth. Some authors have used the term to designate students who come from single parent homes (Keating et al. 2002). Others have used the term to describe youth who are in danger of dropping out of school and failing to complete his/her education with an adequate level of skills (Ferrier 1993). There are many identified characteristics that at-risk youth exhibit. At- risk children generally tend to have one or more of the following characteristics: retention in grade level, poor attendance, behavior problems, low socioeconomic status or poverty, violence, low achievement, substance abuse, or teenage pregnancy (Johnson and Lampley 2010). At-risk youth tend to be individuals that are poor, are limited English speakers, are previous victims of abuse, have a single parent, or are enrolled in special education programs (Ferrier 1993). Although no universal definition of at-risk students exists, they can be understood as youth who are psychologically, emotionally, academically and socially vulnerable.
There exists a strong correlation between at-risk students and a negative schooling experience. Students who are considered at –risk are more likely than the average student to have negative relationships with teachers, have attendance issues, and experience a suspension from school (Maynard et al. 2013). They also generally tend to be unpopular with their peers and are removed from the extracurricular activities of schools (Ferrier 2013). Given these considerations, it is not too surprising that at-risk youth are much more likely than the average student to drop out of school (Maynard et al. 2013). Ultimately, alienation from school administrators, teachers and classmates is a common feelings experienced by at-risk youth in their schooling experience.
The reasons for at-risk students’ negative experiences in schooling are multifaceted. Ferrier in his paper identifies society, school structure and the self-perception of at-risk students as the three most important contributing factors for at-risk youths’ struggles (Ferrier 1993). Academics in the field of Sociology have extensively outlined the challenges that at-risk students face in the classroom based on their socio-economic background or race. Those students who are poor or coming from historically oppressed minority groups are more likely to confront additional challenges within a school setting (Carter 2013; Ladson –Billings 2009; Rist 1977). Other scholars have revealed how the American school system, due to its faulty design, fails to adequately support students who may require additional academic support and attention (Tough 2008; Ferrier 1993). Herrera and her fellow in their work outline in their work the challenges that at-risk students face in viewing themselves in a positive light (Herrera et al. 2011). These factors broadly explain why at-risk students struggle in school.
Those youth considered at-risk face more hostile futures. At-risk children have disproportionately high incidence of divorce, chronic unemployment, physical and psychiatric problems, substance abuse, demands on the welfare system, and further criminal activities as adults (Keating et al. 2002). These issues are not only costs to the individuals but also to society itself as they end up acting as burdens on society in terms of health care, welfare and legal costs. Perhaps more importantly, it is a loss to families and communities, and also a loss of future productivity and creativity. It seems well in the interest of our society to make sure that we address the needs of at-risk children.
Unfortunately, as noted by Williams in her recent research paper, the number of at-risk students has been steadily increasing in the last few decades. This increase can be attributed to the changing social contexts of modern times. Today, there are fewer adults in families. More than one out of four children are born into a single parent home, and half of this generation of children will live in a single –parent household during some part of their childhood (Grossman and Tierney 1998). This change in family structure leads more students vulnerable to negative influences as they have less adult figures to rely on in their lives.
At- Risk Youth and Mentoring
Mentoring works to provide an important adult figure that youth can have a deep relationship with. Much literature exists on how mentors can help at-risk students better face their challenges in theory. Broadly speaking, mentoring is defined as a relationship between an older, more experienced adult and an unrelated, younger protégé, in which the adult provides ongoing guidance, instruction and encouragement aimed at developing the competence and character of the protégé (Randolph and Johnson 2008). Mentoring programs can take place within or outside of schools. Mentoring programs that take place out of school are called community based mentoring programs, while those that take place within schools are referred to as school-based mentoring programs. They can further differ in program focus. Some tend to be more academically oriented while others can be more leisure based. Although these varieties of mentoring program exist with different stated goals, the overlapping purpose for mentors in all these programs is to be someone that youth can trust and access as needed.
Secure relationships with adult figures have been found to have many beneficial effects for youth. Young people often attribute their success to an adult who came into their lives and paid attention to them (Grossman and Tierney 1998). Indeed, those youth involved in high quality relationships have been found to be more independent, more persistent and more socially competent, characteristics important for any type of success (Herrera et al. 2011). One of the crucial roles that adults play in the live of children is acting as an important support system during big changes in their lives. Adults act as strong pillars for children in these times and also help them overcome new challenges that come with these changes (Herrera et al. 2011). Those lacking these support system, during these transitional periods have been reported as more withdrawn, hopeless about their future, inattentive and harmful to others (Keating et al. 2002). An establishment of a strong relationship between a mentor and at-risk child should, in theory, lead to many of these benefits that come with youth having secure relationships with adults.
There exists much theoretical basis for how mentors positively influence at –risk youth. As noted by Williams in her work, the strength of mentoring primarily comes from two theoretical frameworks: the achievement motivation theory and expectancy value theory (Williams 2013). The achievement motivation theory is based on the idea that developing positive relationships can influence one’s motivation by affecting his or her interrelated beliefs and emotions (Williams 2013). The second theory posits that motivation originates from expectations based on given behaviors (Williams 2013). The two theories both support the notion that if mentors act as positive role models in students’ lives, those mentored will respond positively to their expectations. More specifically, if mentors expect at-risk students to excel academically, increase their attendance and reduce their negative behaviors in schools, they will show motivation and effort to make these changes.
Mentors can further help at-risk youth develop higher self- confidence, which in turn should lead to academic improvements. At-risk students have been found to experience increased positive feelings and more positive self-concept when they receive the care, understanding, identification and recognition from the persons they value (Ferrier 1993; Keating et al. 2002). Mentors could fill this role through strong relationships with their mentees. Furthermore, many teachers are able to identify at-risk students in their classroom, but not able to commit enough time to establish a strong bond with these students. Mentors could act as a supplementary form of support to the teachers by giving vulnerable youth the extra attention they need in order to ensure that at-risk students feel that they are being cared for (Johnson and Lampley 2010). The mentors could also relay crucial information about their mentees’ lives to teachers so that teachers are better aware of what is going on in the lives of their students in the classroom.
Increased self-confidence in at-risk students should have positive academic results for these students. A strong relationship exists between a positive self-concept and academic success, while negative self-concept is related to academic failure (Ferrier 1993). Indeed, those students who drop out of school have been recorded as having very low self-esteem and a sense that they have lost control of their futures (Ferrier 1993). With an improvement in self-confidence, students believe that they can accomplish tasks and are more motivated to try to both learn and change in the school setting (Ferrier 1993). It should be noted that the level of educational impact on at-risk students would differ based on what kind of mentoring takes place. Those mentors that regularly intervene in the academic life of students through instances such as tutoring would most likely see more improvement than those mentors that do not adhere to such activities with their mentees. However, all vulnerable youth should in theory see an improvement in their academics as a strong correlation between self-esteem and learning exists.
Mentors could further pass on important social and cultural capital to these students. Lareau has comprehensively outlined how those students coming from poor backgrounds do not receive the valuable social and cultural capital that their wealthier counterparts do (Lareau 2003). As a strong correlation exists between at-risk youth and low socio-economic status, many at-risk students do not have access to this social and cultural capital that could help them succeed within the school setting. Mentors, who are generally individuals who have successfully completed schooling, could be someone that could transmit these social and cultural capitals to at-risk students that do have access to these resources. They could pass on crucial information on how to best prepare themselves for college by relaying information that would help vulnerable youth make themselves competitive applicants.
Literature Review on Academic Benefits of Mentoring
The popularity of mentoring programs has led to many academic studies revolving around the impact of mentoring. Indeed, a search of phrases such as “mentoring impact” and “effects of mentoring” in any major academic databases brings up an overwhelming amount of results. Many of these studies examined the effects of mentoring on at-risk youth in particular, as mentoring programs have often been championed as great interventionist models. Research on the effects of mentoring in this area can be broken down to three areas: academic effects, social effects and psychological effects (Eby et al. 2007; Ferrier 1993; Williams 2013).
Existing literature on the psychological and social impact of mentoring supports a positive relationship between mentoring and psychological and social well-being for at-risk youth. Both individual analysis of mentoring programs and meta-analysis of multiple mentoring programs show many social and psychological benefits for those mentored. Extensive analysis of individual mentoring programs done by Maria Hernandez Ferrier, Lisa M. Keating and her peers, and others have shown that mentoring generally leads to more self-confidence in those mentored and better relationships between adults and mentees (Ferrier 1993; Keating et al. 2002). Meta-analyses undertaken by Jean B. Grossman and Jean E. Rhodes of 1138 youths in various mentoring programs which also showed increases in students’ self worth, parental relationship quality and relationship with others, confirmed the positive results of the analysis of single mentoring programs (Grossman and Rhodes 1998). However, it should be noted that few studies found no difference between the control group and those mentored in the areas of psychological and social well being of mentees (Herrara et al 2011). But all in all, there appears to be a consensus within the literature observed that those mentored and are able to establish a strong relationship with their mentors gain psychological benefits out of their relationships, most notably in the form of increased self-confidence.
The results for the educational impact of mentoring for at-risk students from studies have been much more mixed. Of those researchers who found mentoring at-risk students to have educational benefits, the findings for the actual measured educational gains highly vary. A study undertaken by Jean B. Grossman and Joseph P. Tierney of the educational impact of the national program Big Brothers and Big Sisters found that those mentored experienced an average of 0.1 gain in their GPAs. More specifically, they found that boys who were mentored reported an average GPA of 2.71 compared to the 2.63 GPA of the control group and an average of 2.83 GPA for girls compared to the control group’s average GPA of 2.67 (Grossman and Tierney 1998). Others have cited similar levels of educational gains (Randolph and Johnson 2008). Quite differently, some academics have cited up to 0.7 GPA gains for those who were mentored (Johnson and Lampley 2010). In some studies, insignificant gains or no gains at all have been found in educational impact of mentoring for at-risk students (Rhodes 2008).
In addition to inconsistent GPA gains, studies vary dramatically in their findings about how much time is required for educational benefits to be realized. Researchers have yet to agree on how long an at-risk child has to be mentored on average for him or her to see any educational benefits. Some academics have reported a time span of a little as three months before mentees start seeing academic improvements, while other academics have reported a time span of up to an entire year (Beier et al. 2000; Grossman and Rhodes 2002). The one consensus that researchers seems to have reached on the relationship between time and educational impact of mentoring programs is that if students do not engage in the mentoring program for the long run, any educational gains will deteriorate the following year in which the mentee is no longer part of the program (Herrera et al. 2011; Rhodes 2008). Many of the researchers have called for further studies specifically following up on students after having been part of a mentoring program.
The mixed conclusions researchers have reached regarding the educational impact of mentoring on at-risk students can partially be attributed to different criterion utilized by researchers in determining which relationships will be examined. Such difference in methodology can result in dramatically different results in meta-analysis. For instance, a researcher who only includes relationships in which mentors and mentees meet on a weekly basis for couples of hours compared to a researcher who also includes potentially weaker relationships where mentors and mentees meet only once a month may reach dramatically different conclusions at the end of their 12 month study. The former relationship would be stronger on the basis of having met over fifty times compared to the latter relationship in which the mentor and mentee would have only met twelve times over the same period. The difference in relationship examined would ultimately lead to different conclusions about the impact of mentoring. The study that included weaker relationships would most likely purport fewer benefits from the mentoring relationship compared to the study that only included well-established and strong relationships. Such a difference in methodology often seems to be reason why in some studies researchers reached very different conclusions using the same initial dataset (Rhodes 2008).
Another example of how different criteria of which mentoring relationships were examined impacts results would be researchers’ decisions to exclude certain types of mentoring programs. Many researchers that ran meta-analysis of various mentoring programs did not indicate what kind of mentoring programs they included (Dubois et al. 2010). This omission is significant as various types of mentoring programs exist and can differ greatly. Those mentoring programs that are school based are significantly different in structure compared to out of school mentoring programs. For one thing, those mentoring programs that are school based tend to have academic elements integrated into them. Twenty minutes of the hour long meeting sessions between a mentor and a mentee of a school based mentoring program could be devoted to reading together, for instance. Community – based mentoring programs tend to be much less structured. Although mentors do have the option of engaging in academic activates with their mentee, like going to the library, their options for how to spend time with their mentee tend to be much wider, and not necessarily always academically oriented. Given this difference in structure of school based mentoring programs and community based mentoring programs, a meta-analysis undertaken that only examined school-based mentoring programs would lead to different results than another meta-analysis that failed to differentiate between the different types of mentoring. Given how school based mentoring tend to have academic leanings, the former study would most likely report a more significant academic benefits compared to the latter study. These different criteria of which mentoring programs to include could further explain the different results reached by academics.
It should further be noted that some of the studies examined that analyzed the educational impact of single mentoring programs had various methodological flaws that put the conclusions reached in these studies into question. These methodological flaws were especially prevalent in qualitative research done on the topic. Academics utilized surveys, interviews and questionnaires on teachers, mentors and mentees in order to examine educational impact on those mentored in these studies (Williams 2013; Nasrallah 1991; Beier et al. 2000). Many methodological flaws were found in their use of these qualitative tools. Some researchers fell into the error of reaching broad conclusions only after having conducted self-administered questionnaire that asked the mentors about their academic achievement and family relations after having been in the mentoring programs (Beier et al. 2000). Others made the mistake of undertaking a non-blind study in which those interviewed about the change in behavior of students who were mentored knew that these students were engaged in a study that was specifically looking at the impact of mentoring on students (Keating et. al. 2002). Most of these studies purported modest educational benefits from their studies. These various methodological errors seriously put into question many of the conclusions reached about the educational impact of mentoring. These instances of flaky research could further explain the large discrepancy in findings among studies.
Although a consensus exists in the literature about the impact of mentoring on social elements of at-risk youth, there is a wide disagreement among researchers on what the educational impact of mentoring on vulnerable youth are. This lack of consensus is a departure from the theoretical perspective on the impact of mentoring, which outlines a clear relationship between self-esteem of at-risk students and their educational achievement. It should further be noted that mentoring at-risk students does not always lead to positive psychological results for the students. Grossman and Rhodes, in their study of the Big Brothers and Big Sister program, found that those at-risk youth who had their relationship with their mentors terminated within the first three months suffered significant declines in their self-worth and their perceived scholastic competence (Grossman and Rhodes 2002). It appears that as good relationships through mentoring programs can raise self-confidence of vulnerable students, bad relationships can also significantly further harm these students; it is a two way street.
An analysis of the literature exposed important areas yet to be explored in the study of the relationship between mentoring and educational achievement for at-risk students. Academics interested in contributing to the academic field in question should conduct research on what the lasting educational impacts of mentoring are on students. Herrera and her team in their research found that the modest educational benefits they found faded away for students the following year when they discontinued their participation in the mentoring program. Follow up research could be done to explore if the benefits that students see through their engagement in mentoring programs are continent upon them remaining in the program. A study in which at-risk students’ grades are monitored for several years following their exit of mentoring programs compared to students who were never mentored is suggested in order to get a better understanding of whether mentoring impact is temporary or permanent following the mentoring period.
Another area that has yet to be explored is whether some mentoring relationships lead to negative effects on those mentored. The numbers of mentoring programs have been exponentially growing over the years with the presumption that there are only positive gains to be had through these programs. Indeed, the attitudes of many are that the worst thing that can happen through these programs is that the mentoring relationship has no effect on at-risk students (Nasrallah 1991). However, findings by Grossman and Rhodes in their study of lowered self-confidence of those students who had their relationship terminated within three months suggests that there are potential negative impacts of mentoring relationships. Even though their findings were published more than a decade ago, surprisingly no one has followed up on their research to explore what potential negative effects of mentoring may be. Much more follow-up research needs to be done immediately to more clearly establish if there exists any possibility of negative effects on mentored students.
Those interested in implementing mentoring programs in hopes of helping at-risk students academically need to be cautious on over relying on mentoring programs. Recent research indicates that an increasing number of school administrators, teachers and educational philosophers are relying on mentoring programs as a vehicle for academically helping at-risk students (Woodlief 1997; Eby et al. 2007). However, the literature examined suggests that such reliance on these programs may be misguided. There has yet been a consensus reached by academics of whether there are actually any academic benefits to be gained for at-risk students through their engagement in mentoring programs. Most academics that did find academic benefits found them to be very modest or insignificant (Williams 2013; Dubois et al. 2010; Eby et al. 2007). These small changes in the academic performances of students are not a significant enough intervention to justify the volunteer and organizational efforts if they could be better invested in other aspects of education. A minor GPA bump and attendance improvement for at-risk students who are failing all their classes will not necessarily prevent these students from failing or dropping out of school. Indeed, Williams found in her research that those students who did experience small grade boosts and improvement in attendance that had been part of a mentoring program still ended up failing most of their classes and were still over the acceptable number of absence (Williams 2013). Administrators interested in mentoring programs for academic gains should be aware of these findings and approach the overhyped benefits of mentoring program in the popular media with caution.
That is not to say that mentoring programs do not offer any benefits for at –risk youth. Research clearly indicates that those involved in programs had higher levels of self-confidence, better relations with teachers and displayed less self-destructive behaviors (Johnson and Lampley 2010). Mentoring programs seem to be an extremely effective way of changing problematic behaviors of at-risk youth. Administrators interested in addressing self-destructive behavior of youth could implement mentoring programs as a means of doing so. But administrators interested in starting mentoring programs need to be meticulous in their design and implementation. As research seems to indicate that flaky and short relationships can have detrimental effects on students, administrators needs to be especially meticulous in who they pick to be mentors, how mentees and mentors get matched up and what kind of support they receive upon getting matched. The excitement surrounding the benefits of mentoring programs have led to many terribly structured mentoring programs (Rhodes 2004). Randolph and Johnson and many other researchers have documented various factors that make mentoring relationships last (Randolph and Johnson 2008). This paper will not go into detail of what these factors are due to spatial limitations. However, it is well advisable that those interested in starting a mentoring program do so in partnership with an expert in the field.
There is a lack of consensus of the educational impact of mentoring. Methodological flaws of some research undertaken can in part explain the discrepancy among findings by researchers. Different inclusion criteria in meta-analysis further explain the wide spectrum of findings in the literature. These flaws in research are problematic in that they do not allow those administrators interested in mentoring programs to clearly assess the interventionist value of these programs. In order to better assess the educational benefits of mentoring programs a couple of changes need to be made by future academics studying the impact of mentoring. First and foremost, scholars need to be tedious and meticulous in their research design. Reviews of mentoring programs were filled with flaws that could have been easily fixed with more attention to detail. There needs to be a higher bar on what can and cannot be published on evaluations of mentoring programs. Secondly, the literature surrounding the impact of mentoring indicates that researchers have had very little communication with one another. There has yet to be a development of a baseline of important terms in the research field. As mentoring programs are very diverse in structure and goals, the creation of a glossary that defines terms such as at-risk youth and the various types of mentoring programs that exist could potentially streamline future research done so that they are both reliable and comparable in results.
However, it should be noted that even with these changes there would always remain an ambiguous element of the actual educational impact of mentoring on students. This ambiguity stems from the fact that there are so many factors that determine changes in academic standings of students in the long haul. Even if researchers were to be meticulous in their research, they would still not be able to control for all these various factors. Indeed, leading researchers in the field such as Rhodes and Grossman, even with their flawless methodology in their research, were wise enough to point out that their research results are suspect to a certain extent, as the at-risk students in their program were involved in other various interventionist programs. They addressed this big limitation by indicating that they had no way of knowing whether or not it were these external programs that led to the modest educational benefits they found in their research. Nevertheless, the streamlining of research through better communication among researchers in the academic field would still much improve the currently disjointed academic field.
Although there was no clear bottom-line to the research question of the educational impact of non-academic mentoring, analysis of the existing literature showed stronger evidence towards mentoring programs having very little educational impact on those mentored. In many of the scholarly works examined, the educational benefits obtained by those mentored were not significant enough to change a students’ history of failing classes and being suspended for the number of absences. These results suggest that the educational benefits purported by media of mentoring is overhyped and misguided. However, it should be mentioned that the author’s choice to solely utilize GPA as a way of measuring students’ academic standings in this paper may not be completely reflective of the educational benefits that students’ may have received through mentoring. Grades do not always perfectly measure educational gains of students. It is possible that those students who were mentored did indeed gain educational benefits out of their mentoring experience and that these benefits are not being mirrored through their GPAs. Another limitation of this literature review that should be noted is that all of the studies examined in this study only looked at the immediate educational impact of mentoring. It is possible that the educational benefits reaped by mentored students do not surface until a few years down the road following their mentoring period. Until more research is done, it seems to early to say whether or not mentoring has any real educational benefits to offer.
Given the current uncertainty surrounding the educational impact of mentoring, policy makers and administrators should approach the popularly advertised academic benefits of mentoring programs in the media with caution. Over relying on these programs as a vehicle of drastically changing the academic performances of students should be avoided, as the educational benefits that these programs have to offer are not clear. Policy makers interested in helping at-risk students academically are recommended to pursue more study-proven interventionist models instead, such as research based tutoring models, until more research is done to better understanding what the relationship is between mentoring and educational impact on those mentored. Those interested in implementing mentoring programs for other reasons than academic purposes should be sure that they are meticulous in their design and implementation as to avoid programs that have a high mentor turnover rate, as dysfunctional mentoring short relationships can negatively impact the psychological well-being of those mentored.
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 All names of individuals have been changed