Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Role of Mentoring in the ‘Middle School to High School Transition’

Author: Meha Davé, Director of Program Innovation for Spark

Middle school, as most teachers and parents (and almost anyone!) would agree, can be a difficult time for most students. The brain is in a constant state of development, which makes social, personal and academic transitions challenging. Studies show that grappling with these challenges during this critical time can lead to disengagement and school drop-out during the transition to high school. Consider these statistics:
  • Between 60-70% of US students become chronically disengaged from school during 7th or 8th grade[1] 
  • 68% of students who drop out of school do so in 9th grade, or after repeating 9th grade[2]
Maybe most importantly, the biggest predictor of on-time graduation is if a student is on track during his or her freshman year in high school. These findings underscore what we believe at Spark: supporting underserved students in the middle grades is crucial to bolstering engagement, success and increasing graduation rates.

I recently had the chance to explain how Spark’s mentoring model is doing just this at the
National Mentoring Summit, an incredible opportunity to connect with mentoring colleagues and share best practices! It was founded and convened by MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership, and is the signature event for the mentoring field that brings together approximately 1,000 top researchers, policy makers, practitioners, the network of affiliate Mentoring Partnerships, corporate partners and many other national youth-serving organizations. 

Held in Washington, D.C., the theme of this conference was “Connection, Growth, and Opportunity,” and I was proud to demonstrate Spark’s commitment to these qualities. Through one-to-one mentorships, which pair underserved students with industry professionals, Spark provides a personal connection with a mentor, a tailor-made space for personal and professional growth for students and mentors, and most importantly an opportunity for engagement in an area of personal interest which may have previously seemed out of reach.

Take Andrew for example, a current high school senior, who participated in Spark in
seventh grade. Andrew expressed an interest in drawing, and was paired with a Spark mentor at a Los Angeles architectural firm. Andrew honed his professional and artistic skills in a real-world apprenticeship and felt more prepared for high school as a result. He was just accepted early admission to Brown University and hopes to become an architect. Andrew’s 10-week apprenticeship gave him skills and confidence to better transition from middle school to high school, and his connection with his mentor endures to this day.

Through short and long-term evaluation of Spark participants, we see that Spark students develop the academic mindsets, social emotional and academic skills that lead to improvements in their school performance. We’ve seen that more than 70% of our students have improved their performance in school.

Here are some key factors we attribute to our success, and suggestions for other mentoring programs serving students in the middle grades:
  •  Listen to the mentee to gain an understanding of how to tailor their mentorship experience
  • Apply mentee areas of interest to project-based, hands-on learning
  • Educate mentors about the “middle school mind” and successful strategies for working with this age group 
  • Structure mentor and mentee meetings around skill-building activities
  • Use the present to explore the future, including youth aspirations around future education and career goals 
Join Spark as we continue to make progress for middle school students and mentors. To become involved as a mentor or supporter, apply here.

[1] Source: Everyone Graduates Center

[2] www.sparkprogram.org

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