As schools adopt mentoring programs to support and encourage their students, many are also breaking the traditional model of recruiting adult volunteers to regularly meet with students. They're drawn to mentoring by research that shows a connection between consistent, positive relationships and improved school engagement and attendance.
Schools are asking students to recruit their own mentors from adults in their social circles, having mentors meet in group formats, allowing married couples to team up to work with one student, even using web cameras to introduce students to faraway professionals who share their interests in fields like engineering and math.
They're trying custom-fit new formats in part to address long-standing concerns for mentoring programs: It's difficult to recruit enough volunteers, the adults who do volunteer don't always match the needs of the school, and some mentors—unprepared for the nature of a mentoring relationship—bail early or scale back their commitments before the program is complete.
Researchers are still studying some of those new formats to gauge their effectiveness, but educators who've used them say they have already helped fill a need for more meaningful relationships for students.
"We put a lot of time and effort into getting the right fit," said Ann Pape, the CEO of Communities in Schools of North Texas. "Because we're working with these students every day, we get a chance to really see what's going on in their life ... It's a great way to identify what relationship would work best."
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