Education Opinion

Senior Citizens as Mentors

By Walt Gardner — January 27, 2016 1 min read
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Mentors have long existed, but the need for them has never been greater (“The Importance of High-School Mentors,” The Atlantic, Jan. 13). For students from disadvantaged backgrounds, mentors often are the only reason that they graduate on time. For other students, mentors are surrogate parents who provide the emotional support they need.

There was a time when high-school counselors served both functions. But counselors today average over 470 students, a load which far exceeds the 250 maximum recommended by The American School Counselor Association. That makes it impossible to provide the kind of attention needed. Perhaps in recognition of the problem, formal mentorship is sometimes supported by philanthropic organizations and federal agencies. In fiscal year 2015, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention granted $90 million to support at-risk youths across the country.

This is a step in the right direction, but I’d like to know who these mentors are and what makes them good candidates. Movies would have everyone believe that heroic mentors can perform miracles. But real life is different. Teachers are too overwhelmed today to fill the gap. So where are these mentors coming from? Just as we have a Peace Corps, maybe it’s time to develop a Mentor Corps composed of senior citizens. Their maturity and experience may be just what is required to help young people. It would be an ideal symbiotic relationship.

Preschoolers are already benefiting from interaction with nursing home residents (“The Preschool Inside a Nursing Home, The Atlantic, Jan. 20). The intergenerational interaction enhances children’s social and personal development. I realize that this arrangement doesn’t qualify as mentoring, but I think it’s evidence that senior citizens have much to offer the young. They could be recruited as part of the new Mentor Corps.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.