A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

Yes, You Can: A Guide for Establishing Mentoring Programs to Prepare Youth for College--October 1998

Guidelines for Mentoring Programs (cont'd)

Next Steps: Mentors and Students

Recruiting Mentors

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--

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 Top

Mentoring 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

General Recruitment Tips

After the activities are held, program planners should collect the names of potential mentors and call each of them within a week.

Linking with Business: The Middle School Math and Science Project

The Middle School Math and Science Project, or (MS)2, is a collaboration between San Jacinto Community College, local industry, and middle schools in the greater Houston, Texas area to foster an interest in science, mathematics, and related careers during the middle and high school years, and to encourage college attendance. Participants are 7th graders who are potential first-generation college students with limited exposure to science outside the classroom.

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.

Screening and Selecting Mentors

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

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:

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.

Many Roles, One Definition:
Defining a Mentor in New Mexico MESA
(Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement), Inc.

New Mexico MESA, a pre-college program designed to increase the number of underrepresented populations in mathematics, engineering, and science-related fields, provides students with educational enrichment experiences and practical help to achieve academic excellence and prepare for college. New Mexico's MESA program was founded in 1982, based on the MESA program model that originated at the University of California at Berkeley, and has grown to include dozens of statewide programs operating in 28 school districts at 79 middle, junior and high schools.

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:

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

Training Mentors

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.

Training Tips

The following tips are designed to make training sessions more successful:

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:

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 President's Summit for America's Future

The Presidents' Summit for America's Future, convened in Philadelphia in April 1997, identified "an on-going relationship with a caring adult mentor, tutor, or coach" as one of five fundamental resources to which every child in America should have access. Since then, the partners of America's Promise--The Alliance for Youth--have been working to provide this resource by committing to provide mentors to needy students. On April 27, 1998, General Colin L. Powell, the chairman of America's Promise, reported on the progress that had been made over the preceding year, including more than 350 national commitment makers, and over 260 state and local communities that are actively working with America's Promise. Highlights among the many mentoring commitments include Big Brothers Big Sisters of America's pledge to double its number of mentoring relationships, in order to reach 200,000 matches by the year 2000. Also of note were businesses' contributions, including Carson, Inc.'s commitment to up to 100 hours of paid time off annually for its employees to serve as mentors, the Pillsbury Company's "Caring Adults and Kids" program, to provide grants to mentoring organizations, and the School-Plus Mentoring program, which will utilize Pillsbury volunteers as mentors in ten communities. As General Powell has stated, "An involved, caring mentor can plant a seed of hope in a child's heart that can flower into ambition, hard work, self-confidence, and, ultimately, success."

Recruiting and Orienting Program Participants

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.

Recruitment strategies

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:

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."

--President Clinton
January 27, 1998, State of the Union Address

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.

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