Over a million American students drop out of school each year. Now that statistic is frightening for anyone, let alone an education advocate like myself. So, what can we do? There are a number of ways to decrease the current drop out rate but one particular method that has caught my attention is mentorships. Over the past decade and a half, mentoring has been on the rise in the United States, with close to a quarter of a billion dollars of federal funding devoted to mentoring programs since 2008.
But what exactly is a mentorship? A mentorship is somewhat elusive, but my broadly defined definition would state that a mentorship is a process in which communication between a child and positive adult role model is crucial and through the process a loving, guiding, and supporting relationship unfolds between the child and the role model.
One of the reasons mentoring took off in the 1990s was the publication of a large study about Big Brothers Big Sisters which showed that mentoring over the course of a year or 18 months could help more adolescents avoid negative behaviors including drug and alcohol use, and engaging in violence or disregarding school.
Mentoring programs are designed to work with children who are neglected, withdrawn, depressed or act out aggressively. Some of these mentoring programs make a connection with the child that lasts about nine to eighteen months. I cannot say with confidence that such brief intervention in a child’s life will make a significant difference; a nine to eighteen month crash course on how to deal with extreme emotions is hard enough for an adult to endure, let alone a child. This is primarily why I feel mentorship programs should reflect or copy the program Friends of the Children offers. Friends guarantees its children twelve whole years of continuous mentoring! Furthermore, there are no more than three different mentors along the way. Friends works with public schools in marginalized areas to select only the children who are experiencing the most severe behavioral and emotional problems and the program’s three main goals are to have the youth graduate from high school or receive their G.E.D, avoid involvement with the justice system and to avoid early parenting. These three goals can make an immense difference in an adolescent’s life and can only help to lead them in attaining a positive and fulfilling lifestyle.
I end with a personal experience from Friends’ founder Duncan Campbell. Growing up in Portland, he endured a childhood quite similar to the one in which he now looks to change: His family consisted of two alcoholic parents, where at age four he would go out searching for his parents only to be picked up by a police officer who would locate his parents at a nearby bar. His home was dirty and filled with the smell of alcohol and cigarette smoke. “I loved going to my friends’ homes because they were filled with the smell of baked goods,” he recalled. Those relationships with caring adults, he says, were vital in shaping his world view — and giving him hope. The parents of his childhood friends were his guiding light. And Friends of the Children looks to be exactly that: a guiding light for those who need it most.