By Timothy Cavell
Next week I’ll be attending the National Mentoring Summit in Washington, DC. I’m very excited about attending and will have the pleasure of serving on a panel asked to provide an update on mentoring research.
Last year at the Summit, I used my brief time to make a distinction between two different models of youth mentoring. I contrasted the traditional mentoring-as-relationship model with a mentoring-as-context model. I suggested that latter model is actually more inclusive and does a better job of capturing those mentoring programs that are fairly structured, target a specific population of youth, have narrower outcome goals, and are somewhat brief in duration (e.g., 4-5 months). With this model, mentoring is viewed as a context for providing targeted youth with specific, predetermined prevention-focused activities and experiences.
I see this model as more inclusive than the mentoring-as-relationship model because the mentoring activities and experiences could emphasize high quality mentoring relationships or some other set of activities and experiences provided in the context of a mentoring match. The former assumes that youth benefit only when the match is strong and lasting whereas the latter assumes that youth can benefit via other means or mechanisms.
I used as an example of more focused, short-term mentoring the Lunch Buddy mentoring program that I’ve been studying for the past 15 years. Lunch Buddy mentoring is school-based, lunchroom bound, and involves matches that last for one academic semester only. Key to Lunch Buddy mentoring is the supposition that it isn’t the quality of the relationship that matters most; instead, it is the capacity for the mentor to improve mentees’ social interactions and social reputation with lunchroom peers. For that reason, Lunch Buddy mentors and mentees don’t separate themselves from other students at lunchtime. Mentors sit with the lunch table group and are, in essence, social managers, seeking ways to paint mentees in a favorable light or direct and reinforce peer interactions in ways that are positive toward and inclusive of mentees. We believe it’s a great fit for the population of youth we are targeting—school-aged children who are chronically bullied at school.
The point here is that we need broader models for understanding, designing, and cataloging the full range of mentoring programs. Many programs in use today (besides Lunch Buddy mentoring) are fairly structured, target a specific population of youth, have narrower outcome goals, and are rather brief in duration. The mentoring-as-context model can easily include such programs and offers both practical and theoretical advantages when designing new programs.