Our mission is to increase the graduation rates and success of students enrolled in our public and charter high schools by pairing them with caring adult volunteers in enriched mentoring relationships that promote their personal, academic and career development. Our goal is high school graduation for our seniors, followed by enrollment in higher education, which recently has meant a new goal of helping 8th graders transition from middle to high school so that graduation actually becomes an opportunity.
Mentors, Inc. now matches students with a one-on-one mentor and guides students through a focused, 1-4 years’ experience of career, college, academic and personal exploration, with a goal of broad career and STEM exposure, high school graduation, and college enrollment. The expectation is that while few of our students graduate with interest in STEM now, that more will in the future. Each career experience will have a STEM component, to present STEM and complex STEM work-based challenges in context.
Mentoring Road Map
The Mentoring Road Map is the guide for each student’s mentoring experience. At the match party where protégés (students) meet their mentors (adult volunteers) for the first time, they will start to construct their 12-month experience. The road map drives students’ active involvement in their mentoring journey, as well as the career exploration that will help them learn about their own interests, develop career-related skills, better understand how college, academics, and personal development contribute to career interests and choices, and build a context for their future career plans. The MRM includes exploration around four milestones:
1. Career – Mentors, Inc. hosts career site visits throughout the year, each with a standard format. Each visit to an employer includes a site tour, interview with three employees in different occupations, and a challenge based on the employer’s industry. Students also start and end the site visit with employer coaching on conduct and expectations, and a debrief and Q&A respectively.
2. College – Mentors, Inc. hosts college tours to introduce students to campus academic and social life, help first-generation students believe college is accessible to them, promote the diversity of strengths different institutions have to offer, and encourage development of personal interests and career paths. All college tours will be designed, whenever possible, with a STEM component.
3. Academic – Mentors, Inc. facilitates school counselor meetings for the student, parent, and mentor to clarify school expectations and graduation requirements; and monitors academic grades and attendance to assess and act on the need for intervention along the route to graduation.
4. Personal Development – Mentors, Inc. trains mentors to guide and coach their protégés based on protégé-defined skills, habits, and goals for improvement as part of the mentoring relationship and Mentoring Road Map experience. The organization provides training for mentor volunteers and students to prepare them for their participation; provides mentors with occasional in-service training on topics related to youth development or Mentoring Road Map support; and provides students with skill-specific training for scholarship applications, and coaching for participation in career site visits.
Mentoring programs that match teens with adults with the expectation that any willing adult can be a mentor to any child in need, and that positive outcomes will result simply because a match was made, miss being informed by research. Best practices mean students are matched with mentors that best meet their individual needs, interests, and personalities, promoting a quality, long-term match. Finding the right mentor is characterized by the following:
1. Recruitment – We recruit students directly from classrooms, and mentors from corporate partners and other employers. We also gain students from family, school, and social service referrals; and mentors from online searches and referrals as well.
2. Intake -- All mentors are screened using applications, interviews, references, criminal background checks, and training to ensure they are a good match for our program and can successfully support our students. Students are screened through applications, interviews, and parent-student orientations. There are no academic or social requirements, except that students must be enrolled in school, be motivated to participate in program requirements, and be able to commit to a safe, one-on-one relationship with an adult that requires weekly communication and face-to-face interaction.
3. Matching -- Pairs are matched by staff based on a number of factors including gender, shared interests, and personality compatibility. We also host “Sneak Peek” game and outdoor events to promote organic bonding of prospective volunteers with ready-to-match students to gauge students’ affinity to possible mentors. New pairs meet at the Mentors, Inc. office at a match party with other newly matched pairs, where they set goals for their Mentoring Road Map year, and agree on the activities they would like to experience together. After the match party, pairs begin meeting at least monthly face-to-face for career exploration activities and maintaining weekly communication, and check in with program staff.
4. Match Supervision -- Research shows that mentoring pairs that are left alone to build their relationships independently do not fare as well as monitored pairs. Ongoing case management and support – whether a match lasts one year or four years -- are unique features of the Mentors, Inc. mentoring model. After the match, our staff work hard to support and encourage our mentoring pairs so that our students and mentors have a successful and rewarding experience. Staff check-in with parents periodically to get their perspective on their teen’s progress.
1. MRM Progress and Safety – The student experience is most important. Staff communicate with mentors and students on an ongoing basis to monitor relationship and Mentoring Road Map goal progress, troubleshoot and counsel around challenge areas, and monitor teens’ safety.
2. Attendance and Grades – Research shows that attendance is actually the strongest determinant of student success in school, even more than grades. Mentors, Inc. will monitor DCPS students’ grades and attendance, to track the change in academic performance throughout student participation in the program, and identify the need for intervention on the road to high school graduation.
3. Match Quality – Research shows that perceived match quality is a strong determinant of mentoring outcomes. In 2017, we instituted online monthly reporting for our mentors, which includes perception of match closeness. We assess student perspectives of match quality in ongoing phone conversations (students do not respond well to a monthly requirement to complete online reports).
Helping all of our students to stay in school and graduate is often the first step in closing the opportunity gap, and thus has been our mission since 1987. At our 30th anniversary, we’re not just expecting our students to graduate, we’re helping them explore careers and STEM to build interest, and perhaps STEM pursuit, for 21st century workforce preparedness.