Mentoring Program Feature: The Arthur Project

Reprinted from the Author Project

Six years ago, an idea emerged about a new way of mentoring that combined therapeutic support principles, the power of relationships, and social justice to meet the needs of middle schoolers in underserved communities in The Bronx. The young people in this community have been placed at increased risk of becoming academically disengaged and experiencing socio-emotional or behavioral challenges. The Arthur Project meets these young people’s needs through a multipronged, structured program designed to flex its approach within the unique constellation of each child’s life circumstances (Rhodes, 2020). Standing on the shoulders of so many who have developed meaningful and evidence-based mentoring programs, it continues to forge new territory in order to provide youth with the relationships that empower them to capitalize on their many strengths, gifts, and talents while building a future rich with opportunity.

The Arthur Project’s vision is to expand the power of relationships in a child’s life. It recognizes that – due to institutional barriers like racism – young Black and Latino/a/x/ people are placed at an undue disadvantage in reaping the social capital benefits of relationships with others and with institutions and systems, unlike their white peers. It also recognizes that due to institutional racism, race and socioeconomic status have been historically and inextricably linked in the United States and as a result, a disproportionate number of Black and Latino/a/x families are living below the poverty line (Wilson, 2020). The combined effect is these young people – and their caregivers – experience disproportionate levels of stress, have disproportionate unmet health and mental health needs, are less likely to have access to quality education, and are less likely to have opportunities for upward economic mobility (Akee, R., et. al., 2017). These challenges have only been exacerbated by the ongoing COVID pandemic. This is especially true in The Bronx, New York, where The Arthur Project is situated (Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York, 2021)

At the same time, young people of middle school years are experiencing a window of opportunity. As the groundwork for so much is being laid – neurological, social, psychological, educational – so does an opportunity to co-create seminal and lasting change with those young people.

Embedded inside the school community that it serves, The Arthur Project was originally founded in 2017; its name honors a mentor who changed the life of one of its co-founders. A core tenet of The Arthur Project’s approach is that successful youth interventions rely on the combination of effective relationships with caring, informed adults and the strategic development of self-efficacy and critical life skills in youth. The Arthur Project currently runs the mentor programs serving 180 students in 6th through 8th grade in the Bronx Borough of New York City. Under direct supervision from licensed social workers, mentees are served by therapeutic mentors who themselves are social work students as well as emerging clinicians.

The Arthur Project mentors are healing-centered, trauma-informed, culturally responsive, and trained to explore topics significant to the youth’s personal, interpersonal, and social-emotional growth. Mentor is also trained on building rapport with students, family, and community, as well as on growth mindset, grief and loss, and on principles of adolescent development. Consistent with best practices (Rhodes, 2015), The Arthur Project offers mentors crisis training and support during the entire match period. Combined with intense on-the-ground therapeutic, cultural, and antiracist training, theory-to-practice support, and supervision, The Arthur Project mentors spend significant hours building trust, empathy, and strong bonds with their mentees – fulfilling shared goals and cultivating critical life skills like self-actualization, communication, advocacy, and confidence.

Specifically, The Arthur Project mentees can spend up to 500 hours in focused programming, far exceeding most mentoring programs. Mentors provide services to students through three tiers of intervention: (1) Individual school-based counseling sessions; (2) Small group work; and (3) Saturday community-based activities and events. The program also integrates caregiver support and advocacy into its model,  Caregivers receive support from their child’s mentor, as well as a Family Advocate to achieve individual and family goals, with a focus on supporting the whole family’s academic engagement.

At the heart of The Arthur Project is the hope that students and families graduate the program with the knowledge that not only do they matter to their mentors but to the community and world beyond. Moreover, the goal is that by the time participants exit the program, they are equipped with the tools and resources to set and achieve goals beyond The Arthur Project and to maximize opportunities to build social capital. Consistent with The Arthur Project’s focus on the collective wisdom and equitable relationships, the program utilizes a multidimensional framework. These dimensions act as a guide for programming, activities, and events, and as the students set personal goals, these dimensions create a better sense of interconnectivity. The dimensions are (1) School and Career; (2) Health and Wellness; (3) Family, Friends and Relationships; (4) Finance; and (5) Community and Culture. Also consistent with TAP’s focus on healing and liberation, multiple program components, events, and goals include French’s, et al., (2019) framework for radical healing in communities of color. These include 1) collectivism, 2) critical consciousness, 3) racial hope, 4) strength and resistance, and 5) cultural authenticity and self-knowledge.

Specifically, therapeutic mentors offer more structured activities than more informal programs. The program builds on the youths’ assets to develop communication and critical life skills, enhance conflict resolution and build confidence related to the youths’ goals and individualized tailored growth plans. Consistent with The Arthur Project values, therapeutic mentoring activities are culturally responsive and integrated with the youths’ families, schools, and community (Therapeutic Mentoring Practice Guidelines, Children’s Behavioral Health Initiative, 2015). Embedded inside the schools, TAP further has the capacity to increase school connectedness and attendance, feelings of academic competence, and access to other types of support as the students’ help-seeking increases (DuBois, et. al., 2011).

Individual sessions also focus on “relationship-brokering,” healing and liberation, and developing help-seeking skills. Research indicates that many students who would benefit from help are the least likely to ask for assistance. Often, these students are avoiding unsolicited inquiry into their academic or social challenges. Providing support for help-seeking and network skills, particularly in academic settings, can insulate students and provide protective factors (Parnes, et. al., 2020). Seeking to increase self-efficacy in enlisting social capital and help-seeking behaviors, The Arthur Project mentors support mentees to intentionally develop networks and encourage them to seek academic and social support, similar to the Youth Initiated Mentoring (YIM) framework offered by Rhodes, (2020).

The Arthur Project also provides support for mentor advocacy, focusing on activities that promote the mentee outside the mentor-mentee relationship. This is distinct from the practice of helping mentors self-advocate in that the mentor is encouraged to actively intervene on behalf of the youth. Mentors spend a significant amount of time in the youths’ schools in order to mentor and be available for further support during and after the school day. Recent research has found that support for mentor advocacy can increase mentee development.  Heaney and Israel (2002) further found that mentor advocacy can help the youth broaden social ties and networks that may lead to future connections. These “natural” mentors’ and the mentees’ abilities to cultivate these relationships can build important “intergenerational ties” and social networks (Raposa, et. al., 2021).

The Arthur Project students also have the opportunity to spend their summer after their eighth-grade year participating in a series of workshops and activities designed to strengthen their connection to one another and to the program. Additionally, these activities will frame the possibilities for the future and forecast leadership and community opportunities as they move into high school and beyond. It also provides for additional support for individual growth and opportunities for alumni engagement as peer mentors. It includes a specific focus on high school articulation, including preparing for and selecting an appropriate high school, in addition, to support for personal development, relationships, social and interpersonal skills, finances, conflict resolution, speaking up, social justice, and “leadership.”  The intention is to extend this program for the full eighth-grade year.

The Arthur Project’s ultimate goal is to provide lifelong support for its students and families. Because research indicates that middle school is a crucial time for school engagement and ninth-grade status is the single-best predictor of whether a student will graduate  (Allensworth & Easton, 2005) The Arthur Project seeks to support the crucial transition from middle to high school.

As  The Arthur Project makes plans for expansion based upon its early success, it is proud to maintain its commitment as an evidence-based program. After collecting a tremendous amount of data that indicates healthier youth with greater critical life skills, it is launching its first full program evaluation over the 2021 and 2022 school years. And, like the successful programs upon which The Arthur Project bases its foundational goals and values, it hopes to continue to share its journey for collaboration and collective social change.




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