Mentoring associated with better attitudes about school


The effects of non-academic mentoring on school-related cognitions: A pilot study

MacArthur, S. S., Higginbotham, B. J., & Ho, E. (2013). The effects of non-academic mentoring on school-related cognitions: A pilot study. Journal of Youth Development: Bridging Research and Practice, 8(1), 28-37.

Introduction: Community-based mentoring (CBM) has emerged as a reliable intervention for at risk youth. The focus of CBM is on enhancing youth’s interpersonal skills and developmental assets (Dubois & Karcher, 2005; Rhodes, 2002). Research proposes that CBM can positively influence self-esteem, social skills (Karcher, 2005), and perceived support (Richman, Rosenfold, & Bowen, 1998).  Furthermore, Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) ecological systems theory highlights the developmental advantage that results when multiple settings reinforce positive cognitions and behaviors. Despite this understanding, few studies have looked at the relationship between CBM and school outcomes. This study will address this gap by using theory as a framework to evaluate the effects of CBM on school outcomes through the development of various school- related cognitions, or the mentality that leads to self-perception and attitudes on aspects associated with academics such as: a person’s attitudes toward teachers, classes, and school which can be linked to a person’s commitment to learn.

Method: The current study included 38 youth participants who were referred by community service agencies for demonstrating problems in one or more of the following areas: academic and interpersonal relationship difficulties, discipline problems, or misuse of alcohol, tobacco or drugs. The participants were in 5th-8th grade. From the 38 youth participants, 20 were randomly assigned to the mentor group and 18 were assigned to the waiting list group.

The 4-H Mentoring Program: Youth and Families with Promise (4-H YFP) is a community-based multiple component mentoring programs designed to enhance the individual, familial, and social assets of at-risk youth. This study examines the possibility that a community-based mentoring program without a tutoring component can improve school-related cognitions.

Program Components

  • One-to-one Mentoring Youth are matched with a volunteer mentor who is recruited through the local community. The Mentoring interactions are for 1-2 hours each week. Matches engag in a range of learning activities (academic, athletic, cultural etc.) to gain academic and social skills. Mentors serve as positive role models and motivators for their mentees.
  • 4-H Clubs The youth in the YFP program participate in 4-H clubs which serve to enhance social competencies through leadership opportunities, community service, and group projects. Clubs meet 6-12 times a year and typically consist of 6-10 youth per adult. The 4-H program focuses on developing independent youth who embrace responsibility, leadership, self-direction, interpersonal and life skills. Youth participate in service projects that serve as an opportunity for developing friendships with peers and a sense of belonging in a positive social network.
  • Family Night Out Activities Program youth, parents or guardians, and mentors participate in monthly “Family Night Out” (FNO) group activities that are organized by local YFP site coordinators. Through FNO youth and parents have an opportunity to participate in fun and educational experiential activities together with mentors. The objective of the FNO is to strengthen family bonds and to improve parent-youth communication.
  • Mentor support Mentors are supported by personal interactions with their site coordinator twice a month. The interactions are used to offer encouragement and positive support, provide on-going training, obtain progress reports, and resolve any concerns that mentors may be experiencing.


In the study, measures of school-related cognitions included:

  • Academic Self-Perception, specifically looking at the youth’s feelings of “not being smart enough” and avoiding academic challenges.
  • Attitudes towards Teachers/ Classes and Attitudes towards School, looking at the youth’s commitment to learning and school investment.
  • Goal Valuation, specifically the degree to which the youth value goals associated with school
  • Motivation/ Self- Regulation focused on the adolescent’s personal strategies to facilitate achievement.
  • Parents and youth also reported on their perceptions of the youth’s value/ commitment of school explicitly on how much their youth enjoys school, values learning, and feels that reading, finishing school work, and doing well in school is important.



 YFP School Survey:

  • The youth in the mentoring group demonstrated significant improvements on motivation and self-regulation concepts compared to the waiting list group.
  • Relative to the waiting group, the 4-H YFP group showed improvement group in academic self-perceptions, attitudes towards teachers/ classes, and attitudes towards school.

YFP Parent & Youth Commitment to Learning Scale:

  • The 4-H YFP group reported more commitment to learning in comparison to the waiting list group.


Implications: The findings suggest that a multi-component community based program can positively influence school-related cognitions for academically at-risk youth. The 4-H YFP program provided a one –on-one mentoring component that improved self-confidence and academic cognitions, particularly motivation and self confidence, among academically at-risk youth. The findings suggest that administrators should consider partnering with community mentoring programs to provide additional assistance to struggling students. Parental involvement in a multi-component program can also make the intervention more effective. Parents that are struggling to find helpful solutions for academically at-risk youth should consider enrolling their youth in an intervention that uses a multifaceted approach to target academic deficits that can improve school-related outcomes.

Overall, the findings emphasize that mentoring programs are crucial for the development of youth. The findings demonstrate that the multi-component mentoring programs may be able to influence school-related cognitions even without a tutoring element. This information is consistent with existing theory and research which outlines mentoring programs as crucial interventions to promote developmental assets. Mentoring interactions can assist with the low perceived school competence, a helpless motivation related to school and poor coping skills for academically at-risk youth.

This article was summarized by Mercedes Terrazas, a senior at DePaul University.