A new focus on college and career readiness for youth presents tremendous possibilities for the mentoring world to partner with the education world. We’ve known for decades that mentoring relationships are positively connected to academic success; young people in mentoring relationships have lower high school drop-out rates, better grades and are typically more involved in extra-curricular activities. Despite the positive research, mentoring organizations and schools have struggled to create partnerships that are both permanent and systemic. The college and career ready movement creates an opportunity for establishing a network of effective and quality mentoring programs that serve schools all over the Inland Empire. Without support from the mentoring world, services required to support the Common Core’s goals of college and career readiness may never be fully and effectively implemented.
I have been operating a mentoring program for high school youth since 2007. In that time, my mentoring team and I have helped more than 300 youth become college and career ready through solid mentoring relationships, and direct connections to colleges and career paths. Since mentoring is about showing rather than telling, our youth have gone, with their mentors, on university tours that are specifically organized around their career interests. For students who want to become engineers, we take them to meet with engineers and aspiring engineers to discuss a pathway. For students who want to be musicians, we pair them with a music mentor who can expose them to the technical requirements for gaining entrance into music programs, so that they learn everything from music theory and composition to music marketing, producing and audio engineering, both the theoretical and the practical.
We’ve been doing this work in our mentoring organization because it met an unmet need in schools. But also because when we talk about the key components of a college and career ready movement — i.e., a college-going culture, exposure to careers, and concrete connections to both — we are really talking about mentoring. We are talking about providing individualized support and concrete connections to resources that are so often beyond the scope of what schools can provide. We are talking about institutional guides that can provide young people with the attention needed to support them in navigating colleges and careers.
The limited examples of mentoring often shown us in the media, images of an adult simply “spending time” with a youth, do not accurately reflect the services trained mentors actually provide in the way of academic support and in helping youth to navigate college and career spaces. It is difficult for schools to fully provide these services, not because they are unwilling, but because they are often unable. Teachers are already saddled with responsibilities outside of the instruction and grading included in their job descriptions, the guidance counselor to student ratio is startling, to say the least, and there are too few administrators to carry out an effective one-to-one mentoring program. In addition to time, educators aren’t necessarily trained as mentors, which can impact the overall outcome of a mentoring program’s goals and objectives and a research based and critical training is key to effective and quality mentoring.
The college and career ready movement is about aligning what most of our young people consider to be the theoretical to the practical. Mentors can help schools make this connection. While schools are doing an admirable job of educating our youth, they are not fully equipped to provide the mentoring required to help young people take the next steps toward making the theoretical practical. Nor should they be, education is, both traditionally and realistically, a community experiment and the connection between schools and communities have been historically weak. Having a singular focus on college and career readiness for every young person involves key players on every level and becomes a communal effort.
We need educators and mentors to work collaboratively to improve educational and life outcomes for every child. The individualized attention schools can’t provide should be provided by mentors, and college and career programming should be a collaboration between them both, creating another dimension of performance in education and mentoring practice and providing young people with ample opportunity for college and career success.
Torie Weiston, Ph.D. is an educator and the co-founder of an Inland Empire mentoring organization called the Youth Mentoring Action Network, based in Claremont; www.mentoringactionnetwork.org