Coyne-Foresi, M., & Nowicki, E. (2020). Building Connections and Relationships at School: Youth Reflect on Mentoring Their Younger Peers. The Journal of Early Adolescence, https://doi.org/10.1177/0272431620912472
Summarized by Ariel Ervin
Notes of Interest:
- We often think of a mentoring relationship as between an adult and a child, but this research examines peer mentoring, youth mentors matched with other youth mentees from the same school settings
- This current study explores the impact mentors had in guiding and supporting their mentees/younger peers, within The Wiz Kidz program
- Three main concepts were identified from the findings: communication skills, relationships with mentees, and connections with school and staff.
- Many participants/mentors stated that being a mentor has improved their communication and interpersonal skills; made them more aware about how much on an impact that they can have on their mentees, as their role models; influenced them to better appreciate the work that school staff do; as well as allowed the participants/mentors to make some connections with the school staff
Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)
Most peer mentoring studies have focused on outcomes for mentees. This investigation examines seventh- and eighth-grade youth mentors’ roles in providing support and companionship to younger peer mentees. Group concept mapping (GCM) explored youth mentors’ reflections on the connections and relationships made through a peer mentoring program, 2 to 4 years after participating in the program. Results showed three key concepts: (a) Communication Skills, (b) Relationships With Mentees, and (c) Connections With School and Staff. Mentors noted their improved communication skills with mentees and improved interpersonal relations with fellow mentors and school staff. Implications and future research are discussed.
Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)
Participants’ awareness of the influence they had on mentees was a central theme observed through this investigation. From the moment they volunteered for their roles, the facilitator communicated the expectation of mentors’ responsibility and maturity within the school. The Wiz Kidz program encouraged mentors to model appropriate behavioral conduct, including showing commitment to their studies. Mentors demonstrated these prosocial skills and exercised their leadership roles to encourage the same in the mentees. For example, some mentors were regularly called on by school staff to assist with school assemblies or school safety initiatives; this group of students included the three mentors who participated in the Wiz Kidz program for two consecutive years. Two of these three mentors were involved in other leadership programming at school, namely student council. These students may have had a greater interest in school programming initiatives or perhaps benefited from their social roles within the school. These outcomes are consistent with research that supported peer mentoring as an opportunity for youth to model their identity development (Karcher, 2008) and internalize their social roles (Rhodes, 2002).
Frequent contact with other mentors and mentees in the program may have fostered the mentors’ experience of group affiliation. This affiliation closely paralleled research findings that linked participation in group programming with students’ broader sense of belonging to school (Karcher, Holcomb, & Zambrano, 2008). Furthermore, this belonging and connection with school supports a host of protective factors for students, including social and academic benefits (Karcher et al., 2008) and school staff and peer support (Sabol & Pianta, 2012). This study revealed former mentors’ comfort, and arguably continued connection, with their elementary school months and years after graduating, as evidenced by their return to visit staff and students or assist with school functions, such as school plays. Participants commented on the friendships and connections made with their mentees. Mentor/mentee relationships expanded beyond the Wiz Kidz group to the greater school context, where both age groups engaged in the hallways or at recess, and in the community. It is queried if such exchanges would have occurred among the two groups if the program did not exist.
Former youth mentors also revealed improved interpersonal relations with school staff and the program facilitator as a result of their participation. These concepts closely align with the Wiz Kidz program goals to view staff as a source of support in times of need and is fostered by the natural mentoring relationship staff have with students (Portwood & Ayers, 2005). Research on students’ connection to school and staff (Karcher, 2005; Pianta, (1992) can be considered an extension of attachment theory (Bowlby, 1988). Attachment theory (Bowlby, 1988) is explained as one’s experience of improved feelings of connection and belonging to a person or group as a result of regular social contact with others (Ainsworth, 1989; Bandura, 1982). The current investigation highlights the roles of educators as supportive figures to the students in their classes and to students within the broader school. Identified as natural mentors outside of the home (DuBois & Silverthorn, 2005; Luthar, 2006; Portwood & Ayers, 2005), educators may provide additional avenues of social support to students who require it. The positive influence educators can have on their students’ sense of safety and social well-being can reach beyond the classroom walls; educators are encouraged to seek social programming interventions to engage and support students outside of the classroom.
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