The success of a mentoring program will be determined to a large extent by how well mentors are recruited. Good programs use a number of recruitment strategies and follow specific guidelines for choosing mentors for a particular program. The focus of the program will determine who should be recruited.
Written role descriptions for the mentors can facilitate recruitment of people with skills that are needed to make the program a success. It is also very important that prospective mentors understand the nature of the program they are volunteering for, including the time commitment that is involved--how much time each week, and for how long a period; have a realistic sense of what they can and cannot expect to be accomplished; and the goals, objectives, and rules of the program.
Generally, good mentors are--
known for their kindness and concern;
willing and able to make a significant, regular, time commitment;
knowledgeable in a particular field, for example, engineering or computer science;
experienced in some type of volunteer services; and
highly regarded in their community and well respected in their places of business.
Potential mentors can often be recruited through a school's volunteer office, a company's director of public relations, and community organizations that sponsor volunteer programs.
Senior citizens who have volunteer experience are generally considered to be exemplary mentors. Older mentors tend to stay involved in programs for a much longer time than other volunteers, and can be solicited through contacts with groups such as the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), the American Association of Retired Persons-National Retired Teachers' Association (AARP-NRTA), the National Education Association-Retired program, and the American Federation of Teachers. Senior mentors can also be solicited through magazine and radio announcements and through posters in senior citizen centers, libraries, and churches.
The Importance of Support from the TopMentoring programs receive an added boost when top people are directly involved. The superintendent of schools who sets aside two hours every week for a troubled student, a principal who never misses a mentoring session, the CEO of a large corporation who makes a commitment to a year-long mentor relationship--each sends a powerful message to potential mentors that the program matters. Similarly, when the superintendent, CEO, or principal speaks at a recruitment session on the merits of the program and the personal rewards gained from mentoring, potential mentors will know that the top people in the school, organization, or business care about and are involved in the program.
Effective Ways to Recruit Volunteers
Hold an open house in a central place in the community to publicize your program. Top people from the schools and organizations should be there to discuss the program with potential mentors.
Approach people who are involved in other school-community partnership activities to find out if they may be interested in participating or know of others who may want to volunteer.
Have a well-known professional or prominent businessman approach a major firm that has adult employees skilled in mathematics, science, engineering, or working with computers.
Advertise the program in local newspapers and on local TV and radio stations. Provide success stories to local newspapers for publication.
Advertise the program in local university and college newspapers and on bulletin boards of different departments. Some schools have programs where students participate in community service projects as part of their coursework, and they may be interested in becoming mentors.
Enlist the aid of the religious community. Program planners should discuss the program with members of the clergy and request their help in seeking mentors.
General Recruitment Tips
Bring an experienced and enthusiastic mentor to recruitment functions.
Arrange for program planners to meet with small groups of potential mentors and sponsors to discuss the program.
Gain the support of volunteers who will be able to recruit their colleagues.
Design an attractive and informative program description for display on bulletin boards in churches, libraries, community centers, college or university student centers, and companies or organizations.
If the program is school based, some states require security checks on any adults volunteering in a school, other than a parent.
Provide the company, organization, or school newspaper with a press release about the program.
Arrange to have special displays in the company or school cafeteria.
Plan promotional activities such as luncheons, ballgames, and picnics.
After the activities are held, program planners should collect the names of potential mentors and call each of them within a week.
Participants attend the program for four consecutive summers. Each summer, the program emphasizes the relationship between science and specific careers and industries. Representatives of three types of regional industries-oil, space (for example, NASA), and the marine industry-are program partners. Students visit local industries to complement their academic experience. For example, during a unit on physics, students visit NASA; when geology is studied, students examine the oil industry and visit oil rigs; during a unit on biology, students visit Galveston to look at industries related to marine biology. Physics and engineering are studied along with related industries such as bridge building and amusement park physics.
Students spend one to two weeks on San Jacinto's campus each summer, where college faculty and guest speakers provide academic instruction emphasizing inquiry-based activities. Students work in labs and on problems in groups, but are also assigned individual projects. Mentoring is provided by San Jacinto College students who act as counselors and spend the entire day with program participants, providing extra tutoring, help with projects, and general mentoring. Junior counselors, who are former program participants, assist the mentors and provide additional role models for new participants. Although it is a summer program, participants may use the campus math and science resource lab (where counselors work as tutors) during the school year if they need extra help with schoolwork.
A thorough and effective screening process is extremely important to the success of the program and for assuring the safety and comfort of both students and mentors. In the past, many programs have focused on recruiting as many volunteers as possible--"screening in" as many potential mentors as possible to reach the greatest number of youth. Many experienced programs, however, have found that it is ultimately more effective to "screen out" volunteers who may be unsuited for mentoring due to a lack of available time, unrealistic expectations, or other reasons. Rather than trying to accommodate as many mentors as possible, these programs have found that more--and better--work can be done by a smaller group of carefully selected, committed mentors. In many cases, other roles in the program may be available for individuals who are not selected to be mentors, such as tutoring, providing program resources, helping at program functions, or assisting in other aspects of running the program (Freedman, 1996).
Programs should ask potential volunteers for character references and previous experience, or perform some kind of background check. Programs should also follow any routine procedures the school system may have for screening individuals who will come into contact with children, including fingerprinting, checking police records, or health screening.
More than one member of the program staff should personally interview each potential mentor. The questions below are intended to help interviewers with the selection process, but the list should not be considered exhaustive.
Questions To Ask Potential Mentors
Why do you want to be a mentor?
What special skills and interests do you have?
What do you especially like about working with children or youth?
What type of help would you like to give a young person?
What benefits do you expect to receive by participating in the program?
How much time will you be able to devote to the program?
Have you ever worked with this age group before?
What difficulties are involved in working with this age group?
What experience in your background will help you to communicate with an at-risk child or youth?
What expectations do you have for your student? What expectations do you have for your experiences in the program?
If the interviewers are satisfied with the applicants' responses, the next step is to discuss the role description.
The Role Description
Potential mentors should receive and discuss with the interviewer a written role description, clearly defining a mentor's duties in relation to the purpose and objectives of the program. The role description should address the following issues:
The particular skills that the potential mentor can share with a student;
The need for confidentiality;
The age and type of student with whom the mentor will be working;
The people in charge of the program and the mentor's supervisor;
The person to whom the mentor should go for guidance during the relationship;
Occasions when the mentor is required to report to the supervisor;
Number of hours per week or month that the mentor should meet with the student;
Places where the mentor and child may meet;
Details of any stipend that may be provided to cover transportation and other incidentals; and
Length of time the mentor is expected to participate--one year, two years, three years, or more.
After the role description has been discussed, the interviewer should discuss with the applicant the types of problems that can arise when working with at-risk young people. Mentors who are not adequately warned about potential problems in the initial stages are more likely to drop out of the program. The discussion should be tempered with a description of the numerous benefits that mentors and sponsors derive from participating in a program.
The various MESA programs provide thousands of New Mexico public school students with year-round support and career guidance. Students may enter the MESA program at any time beginning in their 6th grade year, and may choose to participate through the end of their senior year. Although activities vary from school to school, all MESA programs operate with the same basic objectives and goals, such as encouraging students to acquire necessary academic skills, promoting career awareness, ensuring community cooperation and interaction, and preparing students for careers in mathematics, engineering, and the sciences.
There are a variety of mentoring relationships within the MESA program. Older pre-collegiate MESA students serve as mentors for younger pre-collegiate MESA students; pre-collegiate MESA students from 6th through 12th grade serve as mentors to students at the elementary level (the Buddy Program); and federal employees serve as mentors to pre-collegiate kids (Project Partnership). Although there is a variety of types of mentors in the program, all are expected to adhere to the following criteria:
Demonstrate commitment, competence, and a willingness to extend knowledge;
Derive satisfaction from helping others succeed;
Be a role model, advisor, and friend;
Build confidence by teaching skills and offering feedback; and
Exhibit ethical behavior.
Mentoring matches are supervised by school coordinators, regional coordinators, and the program director. Ineffective mentoring relationships are generally reassigned or terminated, if necessary. MESA currently serves 3,400 6th through 12th grade students in New Mexico public schools; of these students, 63 percent are Hispanic, 11 percent are Native American, and 1.8 percent are African American. In its 15 years of operation, New Mexico MESA has served approximately 18,000 students in all. A report by the New Mexico Commission of Higher Education found that 97 percent of program participants enroll in some form of postsecondary education, and 78 percent of those participating in postsecondary education major in math, science, and/or engineering
Before mentors can participate in the program, it is essential that the program provide them orientation and training. These sessions should be designed to clarify the program's goals and help the mentors focus on the short-term objectives toward which each will be working with their assigned child. Because the mentoring program may be bringing in people from outside of the school, it should also provide any other training that the school system requires.
The following tips are designed to make training sessions more successful:
Experienced, enthusiastic mentors make excellent trainers. Consider bringing experienced mentors together in a "mentor panel" to share their experiences with the trainees and stimulate discussion.
To keep the program interesting, trainers should not lecture at length but should use a variety of learning techniques such as role playing, slides and films, and training manuals.
The training sessions should help the new mentors enhance their skills as well as learn new ones.
During the practice sessions, new mentors should receive feedback on how they are doing.
The training site should be pleasant, conducive to learning, and centrally located; refreshments should be provided.
At the end of the sessions, the mentors should complete a course evaluation form. This will help the program evaluate the training process and determine ways in which it could be improved.
Material to Be Covered in a Training Session
Mentors need to be prepared for their roles before they are paired with their students. Training sessions should be designed to sharpen the mentors' insight into the way young people behave and communicate and to provide the mentors with effective strategies to use with their students.
Programs should use materials and have practice exercises that provide a preview of what a mentoring relationship entails. Suggested topics include the developmental stages of adolescence, stereotyping of and misconceptions about young people, skills involved in effective listening and communication, and strategies for building trust and establishing a bond of friendship. Useful strategies include the following:
Discuss the nature of a mentor relationship
These questions need to be addressed because there are varying degrees of closeness, as well as different expectations, in a mentoring relationship. Experienced mentors can provide some answers about the variety of relationships, and the stated program goals and objectives should be able to put some of these questions in context.
Review effective ways to work with parents. Mentor programs should always make a diligent effort to work with parents and families. The mentors need parental support for the relationship. Program staff can invite parents to attend training sessions and ask for their input. A mentor may have frequent phone contact with the child's home. The mentor may wish to send notes home to a parent, or share news of the child's success. The mentor may suggest meeting both parent and child at a particular event given by the school or a community organization.
Compare communication styles. Point out the differences between adult communication and adolescent communication, and provide mentors with a fact sheet on some specific differences in communication style. Have mentors participate in role-playing exercises that reveal the differences between good and bad listening habits.
Remember: These sessions should be regarded as only the initial phase of training. Successful programs continue to provide training as needed, meeting with the mentors regularly to sharpen skills and to discuss problems as they arise. For example, in some programs, mentors meet with program staff and other mentors every two weeks, and formal workshops are held quarterly.
Identifying a National Need:
The nature of the program will dictate which young people may be selected to participate. For school-based programs, members of the planning team should contact teachers, guidance counselors, school officials, outreach workers, and coaches to determine which youth would benefit the most from working with a mentor. In community-based programs, the heads of civic groups or organizations, directors of social services, and local clergy can be of help.
Recruiters should make a strong effort to involve the young people who are most in need of the type of help the mentors will provide. Many times, isolated and troubled children are excluded from traditional school-community partnership programs because they are not perceived to be good candidates for success. Yet these are the very children who could benefit most from a partnership relationship, so it is important for mentor programs to seek out these children.
A decision should be made about how the program will be publicized. Care should to taken to ensure that the program is not perceived as being exclusively for poor or troubled youth. This is especially true for a school-based program, where students may run the risk of being belittled if they participate. Program names that sound positive and do not suggest any particular population are best.
Recruitment strategies should include using peers who have participated in a mentor program as recruiters, putting posters on bulletin boards and in places were youth congregate, having the school send out letters or flyers to students' families, and, if possible, advertising on radio and television. If the program is for a specific population such as teen mothers, posters could be posted in the welfare office or be given to social workers to pass on to the young women. Youths in trouble with the law may be recruited by contacting the juvenile courts and probation officers for referrals.
Once the youths have been recruited, they need to know what their role will be. Some programs provide students with a written role description. Program staff should hold an orientation session that covers the following subjects:
The purpose of the program and the reasons the students should want to participate;
The potential benefits of participating: improving grades, learning how to prepare for college, or learning about a career or area of interest;
The limits of a mentor-student relationship: it is important for students to understand that the mentor cannot do everything for the students, nor can the mentor be a surrogate parent; and
The students' part in making the program a success: behaving courteously, keeping appointments, and showing respect for the mentors.
All programs must also discuss with students who elect to participate where and when the student and mentor should meet, and what conduct or behavior is appropriate on the part of the mentor. Some programs hold regular training sessions for the students, which may include instruction in general problem-solving techniques and effective communication skills. Other programs include the young people in the planning process, asking for and using their input. The more prepared the young participants are, the better the chances are of making the program a success.
GEARing UP for College: High Hopes Turn to Realities
"If you know a child from a poor family, tell her not to give up--she can go on to college."
The combination of new programs like the HOPE Scholarship and increased support for long-standing federal student financial aid programs, such as the Pell Grant and the Work-Study program, have ensured that today the doors to college are open to more and more youth. Congress has also approved the president's proposal for a new college-readiness program in the form of the GEAR UP program (short for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs). These new mentor-focused partnerships between middle grade schools and colleges will provide whole classes of students--beginning no later than the seventh grade, and continuing through high school--with mentoring, academic assistance, and help preparing for college. Modeled after successful private efforts, such as Eugene Lang's I Have a Dream Foundation, this program will help ensure that the nation's neediest students are aware of what it means and takes to go to college, including academic requirements and the availability of student financial aid, from an early age.