Studies show that mentors – adults who volunteer as advisors and role models – can have a positive impact on the lives of young people, especially those raised under circumstances known to contribute to social, academic and health problems.
In order to study how mentoring relationships can be developed most effectively, a faculty group at Cornell University’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies, created a demonstration project called Linking Up. The group discovered that recruiting, training, and matching mentors with at-risk students was much more difficult than they had anticipated and required more time and staff resources than expected.
Based on their experiences with Linking Up, Professor Stephen F. Hamilton and Senior Research Associate Mary Agnes Hamilton, drew several conclusions that they feel might prove helpful for schools contemplating a mentoring program for their students.
1. Businesses and organizations willing to find volunteers from within their ranks are a better source of mentors than one-at-a-time recruitment.
2. Mentoring tends to be expensive mainly because of the amount of time and resources needed to recruit and train mentors. Therefore, Hamilton and Hamilton recommend giving priority to children in the greatest need of guidance and encouragement.
3. Mentors need specific, concrete goals. Many mentors in the Cornell program complained that goals, such as the “development of character” were too vague.
4. Of the several goals in the program, competence-building met with the most success. Mentors found that building meaningful personal relationships was facilitated by concentrating on learning to do something well rather than concentrating on building a relationship.
5. Relationships between busy, successful adults and children living under difficult conditions are not an everyday occurrence. Such relationships need to be carefully nurtured in order to gain trust and build friendship. Although mentors found it difficult to model natural relationships, they stress that it is worth the effort for at-risk children who would not find mentors without such a program.
6. Mentors themselves need continuing support. An orientation and short-term training are not enough.
7. Mentors in the Cornell project found it difficult to develop good relationships with their proteges when they were expected to find somewhere new to go each time; relationships developed more successfully when mentors were able to meet regularly at the same place. Mentors’ workplaces proved successful in providing both opportunities for learning skills and for meeting new people. In addition, mentors were comfortable talking about their work. Mentoring of high school students develops especially well in workplaces, while elementary children may be better served by the Big Brother/Big Sister approach which emphasizes emotional support and companionship. These researchers report that they were unable to identify the most effective conditions for mentoring students of middle-school age.
“Mentoring Programs: Promise and Paradox” Phi Delta Kappan, March 1992, Volume 73, Number 7, pp. 546-550.
Published in ERN September/October 1992 Volume 5 Number 4