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School-based mentors for at-risk youth
Research shows that when young people grow up without a strong relationship with a caring adult, they are more susceptible to difficulties, including academic failure and engagement in high-risk behaviours. But there are ways to help at-risk youth stay on the right track. A recent study by Big Brothers Big Sisters Canada found that boys who are mentored are two times less likely to engage in negative behaviour such as bullying, fighting, lying, cheating, losing their temper or expressing anger. Additionally, girls with a Big Sister are two and a half times more likely to feel confident at school.A decade of research has revealed that mentoring can be a viable intervention strategy capable of successfully transitioning at-risk youth into valued, working citizens of the adult world. And the popularity of school-based mentoring programs is growing by leaps and bounds—in fact, approximately 1 in 3 mentoring programs are now school-based as opposed to community-based.

What is school-based mentoring?
Typically, in a school-based mentoring program, students facing academic and/or social/emotional challenges that are identified as being at-risk, are paired with a mentor. Mentors are usually volunteers who meet with the student at school, generally for an hour or so each week. Academic activities, such as homework, tutoring and reading are usually the primary focus, however social activities may come into play as well.

Benefits of school-based mentoring programs
Mentoring programs can have a positive effect on youth behaviour and development. In fact, Big Brothers Big Sisters Canada, which offers an in-school mentoring program, reports that 90% of mentors saw a positive change in the child they were mentoring, and 88% of students showed improved literacy skills. Below are some additional benefits attributed to school-based mentoring:

  • Increased confidence: 77% of teachers and 86% of mentors report that participants of Big Brothers Big Sisters’ school-based mentoring program improve their self-confidence.
  • Greater school engagement: Of those participating in the same program, teachers see 65% as having an improved attitude toward school.
  • Broader reach: It is suggested that school-based mentoring programs, when compared to community-based programs, have the capability of reaching higher-risk children—those who may have otherwise fallen through the cracks due to parents who lack the time, energy or initiative to involve their children in a community-based program.

Recruiting mentors
If you’re looking to recruit school-based mentors for your district, remember to promote the desirable aspects and positive outcomes. School-based mentoring programs can be especially appealing—they require less time (as discussed earlier, typical sessions are about an hour a week), they have regularly scheduled meeting times and meetings take place right at school during classroom hours. Below are some tips on recruiting different types of mentors:

  • College students: Many college students are looking to build their volunteer experience, yet they don’t have large blocks of time to commit to mentoring. They also may be unavailable during the summer and holiday breaks, which is why school-based mentoring may be a good fit for them. Promote mentoring opportunities in student service centres and during college orientation. Hand out literature outlining the program and have giveaways on hand to generate interest—notebooks and pens imprinted with a message about becoming a mentor.
  • Older Adults: Some older adults may be looking for opportunities to mentor area youth, however they may refrain due to concerns about safety. A school-based program takes place in the safety of the school building and can have some appeal with this audience. Get the word out and provide literature to the local senior centre that highlights some of the benefits—throw in apple-shaped Post-it® notepads or heart-shaped jar openers to make an added impression.
  • Community-minded employers: Many of today’s employers encourage their employees to volunteer their time in the community. These community-minded companies can be a great place to recruit mentors. Ask for the opportunity to provide an employee paycheque-stuffer highlighting the program … or better yet, ask for some time to present at an all-staff meeting. Be sure to provide giveaways such as star-shaped highlighters and smiley-face stress balls.

School-based mentoring programs can have a positive effect on students and mentors alike. U.S. President Barack Obama said it well, “Every day, mentors in communities across (the) nation provide crucial support and guidance to young people. Whether a day is spent helping with homework, playing catch or just listening, these moments can have an enormous, lasting effect on a child’s life.”

Strengthening Mentoring Opportunities for At-Risk Youth.” Educationnorthwest.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 July 2013.

Big Brothers Big Sisters Launches 100 Year Celebration with Largest Mentoring Study Ever in Canada.Big Brothers Big Sisters Canada. Web. 24 July 2013.

Research Corner: School-Based Mentoring.” Mentoring.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 July 2013.

Impact Evaluation of the U.S. Department of Education’s Student Mentoring Program – School-Based Mentoring.” Impact Evaluation of the U.S. Department of Education’s Student Mentoring Program – School-Based Mentoring. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 July 2013.

In-School Mentoring.Big Brothers Big Sisters Canada. Web. July 24, 2013.

Watch Now.” Mentoring Programs. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 July 2013.

The ABCs of School-Based Mentoring.” Educationnorthwest.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 July 2013.

Mentoring Resources.” Mentoring Resources. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 July 2013.

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