Increase Student Success Through Mentorship

Part two of our "Don't Call Them Dropouts" series spotlights the value of mentorship because for most high school non-completers, life hasn't been an easy road to navigate. Unstable home lives, little parental support, violence and abuse shape the lives of these young people, thrusting them onto a dead-end street with little guidance or opportunity. But circumstances don't have to dictate a young person's destiny. The beauty of youth is its resiliency; change is a real possibility. With help, young people can change their attitudes, change their sense of self-worth and change the future. A supportive and emotionally invested environment can transform noncompleters into high school graduates, and mentorship can lay the groundwork for this new type of environment.

Mentors create a sense of connectedness that serves as the new foundation for a positive and successful learning experience. In the "Don't Call Them Dropouts" discussion panel addressing how to improve high school noncompletion rates, mentorship is a steady theme for student success. Mentorship can positively remodel the influential environments and experiences of nontraditional learners in the following ways:

Provide Options & Opportunities

Mentors can intervene when students have high absenteeism or are physically present but mentally vacant in classrooms. The role of a mentor is to break through to these closed-off young people and make them aware of their options. A traditional school system can fail an individual burdened by life's complexities, but mentors explain the available options and help meet the special needs of a nontraditional learner.

There's no normal anymore, according to Ray McNulty, chairman of Penn Foster high school board, dean of education for Southern New Hampshire University and the chairman of the Board for the National Dropout Prevention Network. Flexibility and adaptability are essential for graduating more high school students. Learning models are no longer one size fits all. Mentors can reveal new opportunities to nontraditional learners by detailing the options and providing the steps required to reach the finish line. McNulty highlights such options, including:

     - Self-paced blended learning

     - YouthBuild, non-profit organization providing education, counseling and job skills

     - Job Corps, a free education and career-training program

     - School district partnerships and fresh start recovery programs

     - Dropout recovery programs

Influencers at a career college can even offer a high school completion option to re-engage high school non-completers. The mentor will help the non-completer enroll in the program and guide the individual through the step-by-step process of attending class, completing assignments online and planning for the future. A returning non-traditional student, whether in a traditional high school environment or on a career college campus, can also stay on course by looking up to a role model, someone whom to emulate.

Serve as a Role Model

Mentors can also serve as role models. A role model can relate to the experiences of a noncompleter, which creates common ground and builds trust. Role models help young people realize their capabilities and potential. They set an example and serve as evidence for how someone like them can control their course and change their future. Once young people look up to and admire their role models, they don't want to disappoint them.

Young educators in particular can effectively reach out to disadvantaged youth as a mentor and role model. At SNHU, education students start out in needy districts, McNulty says. Future educators can experience that type of environment first-hand and better understand kids who need help.

Advocate for Them

Elayne Bennett, founder and president of the Best Friends Foundation, emphasizes how vital it is for young people to know they have an advocate on their side. For many of these students, their parents aren't equipped to be their advocates due to any number of factors. In order for disadvantaged kids to learn to be an advocate for themselves, they need to be shown from someone, a mentor, that they're worth it.

Once a mentor commits to being an advocate, he or she takes on the role of coach. A coach believes in students, guides them through adversity, celebrates their victories and examines the failures, every step of the way. In this role, a mentor will teach a young person character skills and help build the self-confidence to progress academically, from high school graduation to career college enrollment. Mentorship and coaching is a deepened investment in a student's learning experience and perseverance. A mentor ensures learning is dynamic and interesting to help students stay engaged to motivated to reach their goals of high school graduation, higher education, and ultimately a career.

Offer Emotional Support

Mentoring troubled teens or struggling students isn't simply an investment in education; it's an investment in the improvement of young people's lives. "It's moving away from this idea of it only being about financial capital. It's also about human capital, and what can we do in our communities to look out for another young person to show that they matter," states Jonathan Zaff, executive director for Center for Promise. The emotional support is paramount. To feel capable of setting goals and worthy of achieving these goals, young people need to feel like they matter. They need to know someone's listening to their story.

Make sure young people are nurtured, loved and encouraged to live up to their potential, says Bennett. Promote a wholesome and positive high school or career college campus ethos. Is there order? Is there a sense of structure? Is the principal visible in the hallways? Is a counseling center available on campus? Are parents welcome in the school? Is there an option for traditional learners to earn the proper credential?

Nurture the academic environment to nurture the students. First, provide options to set nontraditional learners up for success, such as a high school completion program. Then mentors can provide that extra effort in affirming the self-worth of young people and giving individualized attention that kids naturally yearn for. If mentors can care about and instill value in young people, then those young people start to care and value themselves as well.

Witness the Power of Resiliency

When students can find connectedness through a peer, parent, guidance counselor or mentor, they can bounce back, says Zaff. Resiliency, connection and hope enables these students to reach out and seize the opportunities available to them. Whether a mentor helps a young person change their mind about leaving school or re-enter education through a career college's high school completion program, a single window of opportunity can revitalize a young person's spirit. Empower young people to not only reach out but to reach inside themselves to achieve goals and build a bright future. In the words of McNulty, "Where you start is not where you finish in life."

Check out Parts OneThree, and Four of this series. 

Resources: Photo