Since the surge in juvenile violence in the 1980s and the very visible school shootings of the 1990s, activists, juvenile justice advocates, educators, faith leaders, and policymakers have created a number of mentoring programs for at-risk youth.
Mentoring aims to provide youth with role models, educational programming, and empowerment activities that dissuade them from involvement in criminal or violent activity and encourage successful transition into adulthood. Such interactions can be conducted on a one-on-one basis or in small groups. The U.S. Department of Education funds some mentoring programs.
In a school setting, typically teachers and staff identify academically and/or socially and emotionally at-risk youth for participation in the mentoring program. Volunteer mentors then generally meet with the students during the school day. Programs vary regarding the amount of time spent on academic and social activities. School-based programs tend to cost less than community-based mentoring programs, as they have lower overhead and other costs. School-based mentoring tends to be less intensive than community-based programs, however, due to constraints attributable to the school calendar. An average school-based program runs approximately five to six months and includes an average of six hours of activity per month. Often school-based programs rely on high school or college-aged mentors who may connect well socially to their mentees but can be less well equipped to make the needed impact.
The most widely used type of mentoring program involves intergenerational and youth-based programs that offer leadership-development seminars as well as various other rites of passage for youth. These programs generally target the most marginalized youth, such as ex-offenders and gang members. Some notable examples of this type of mentoring program include the San Francisco Bay Area’s Omega Boys Club, Boston’s Ten Point Coalition, and the Ameri-I-Can organization in Lose Angeles.
Identity-based mentoring focuses on youth who may be victimized by violence and crime because of their racial or ethnic background, gender identity, sex, sexual orientation, immigrant status, or other factors. These programs are intended to reduce discrimination and to raise the consciousness of youth such that they become empowered and self-confident. Many mentoring programs have been established to assist lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth, for example. LGBTQ youth are frequent targets of harassment and physical violence in schools. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) has recognized this risk and developed a mentoring guide for working with sexual minority youth. Other well-regarded programs reaching LGBTQ youth include the North Carolina Lambda Youth Network and the Audre Lord Project in New York City.
Mentoring programs have been established to assist the children of undocumented persons as well, given that they are often targeted in schools. Groups such as the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence (CAAAV) in New York City, the ESPINO organization in California, and the Community Youth Organizing
Campaign in Philadelphia have all been created to address physical harassment and assault as well as the violence surrounding deportation, detainment, and unhealthy work conditions.
At-risk girls have benefited tremendously from mentoring programs. Programs focused on girls aim to address such issues as dating violence, body image, eating disorders, bullying, self-esteem, and self-mutilation. The Ophelia Project is a well-known girl’s mentoring program. Women of Tomorrow (WOT) is a school-based program in South Florida that combines a successful female role model from the community with a school-based coordinator to offer education and support for at-risk girls. WOT also has a scholarship program for girls seeking to attend college.
Other mentoring programs involve large-scale organizing campaigns to improve the living environment of marginalized youth. An example of this type of mentoring is the Democracy Multiplied Zone (DMZ), which was developed in the 1990s by the Youth Force of the South Bronx. The DMZ focuses special attention on youth in a specific area of the South Bronx, offering them mentoring, developmental resources, and special attention.
Some mentoring programs are established through diversion systems that assist youth who have been involved in the juvenile justice system. Missouri, for example, has established best practices in developing its extensive diversionary mentoring program.
Evaluations of school-based mentoring programs have generally found them to be effective at reducing students’ misbehavior and increasing their performance. One study of a school-based mentoring program for at-risk middle school students found statistically significant reductions in office referrals and statistically significant improvements in attitudes toward school. The quality of mentorship matters, however. Positive mentors meet more consistently with mentees and report more relaxed meetings. Other studies have found that school-based mentoring programs produce short-term effects in regard to academic performance, school attendance, and behavior in school, but that the results were not sustained into the following school year. Many evaluations of school-based mentoring program have found positive effects on students’ self-esteem and ability to connect to their peers.
- Converse, N., & Lignugaris-Kraft, B. (2009). Evaluation of a school-based mentoring program for at-risk middle school youth. Remedial and Special Education, 30(1), 33–46.
- Rappaport, C., Olsho, L., Hunt, D., Levin, M., Dyous, C., Klausner, M., et al. (2009, February). Impact evaluation of the U.S. Department of Education’s
- Student Mentoring Program. Institute of Education Sciences. Retrieved from http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/pubs/20094047/summ_2.asp