Survey Finds Mentoring Relationship Benefits At-Risk Seniors and Adults

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By Lisa Jennings

Washington--At-risk high-school seniors who have had an adult "mentor" report many benefits from the relationship, including improved grades, a greater ability to avoid drugs, and better relations with their teachers and families, according to a new survey.

For their part, the adults involved also report benefits from the structured mentoring relationship.

The survey, described as the first systematic evaluation of a national mentoring program, was conducted by Louis Harris & Associates for The

Commonwealth Fund, a New York-based philanthropic organization.

The results were released here last week at a national conference described by its sponsors, the Labor Department and Project Literacy U.S (plus), as the first such gathering to focus exclusively on the subject of student-mentoring programs.

The conference brought together some 200 experts to discuss the promotion of programs that link adults with at-risk students. That concept has won enthusiastic White House support as an element of President Bush's "Points of Light" initiative for sparking interest in volunteerism.

Ricki Wertz, national outreach director for plus and the conference coordinator, said a report would be developed from the conference deliberations "to define the future of mentoring."

The report is expected to draw heavily on the Harris study, which conference officials said offers valuable insights into the specific benefits of mentoring relationships.

For the survey, 400 high-school seniors and their adult mentors in 16 cities were interviewed at length.

The students were participants in the Career Beginnings program, a large national mentoring project designed to enhance the education of high-school students, primarily those in urban areas. It is financed in part by The Commonwealth Fund.

More than half the students came from single-parent families; 70 percent were black and 20 percent were Hispanic.

The adult mentors were college graduates with full-time professional or managerial jobs. Most were married and had children; half were black and half white.

The students identified six significant benefits of having a mentor: help in choosing a career path, improved grades, greater ability to avoid drugs, increased regard for people of other races, improved relationships with family and teachers, and inspiration to succeed.

Almost all the students who completed the program graduated from high school (98 percent), and 74 percent held jobs during their senior years. Fifty-five percent attended college the next fall, and most were working to help pay their expenses. Another 71 percent said they planned to begin or continue college the following year.

None of the students had been expelled from school or arrested. Ninety-five percent said they hoped one day to offer their children better opportunities, and 93 percent anticipated having successful careers.

The mentors interviewed also identified specific benefits. The adults said the program enhanced their ability to fulfill other responsibilities, strengthened relationships within their own families, increased their regard for other races, and improved their willingness to get involved in their communities.

Message to Schools

Jerome H. Grossman, chairman of the advisory committee of the Career Beginnings program, said the results offer a clear message to schools about the value of such programs in dealing with at-risk students.

The keynote speaker, Secretary of Labor Elizabeth H. Dole, said such programs are part of the solution to a growing "workforce crisis" of eroding basic skills among youths.

She reiterated her "Call to Quality," a series of initiatives announced last October to improve the quality of the workforce. Ms. Dole said she would announce this week a blue-ribbon commission of business, labor, and education leaders that will develop national competency guidelines for work readiness.

Another speaker, Charles Kolb, assistant secretary of education, said the Education Department plans to issue a guidebook for establishing mentoring programs next month, which will include a review of existing research, and program examples.

Vol. 09, Issue 28

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