Pulling youth out of class for school-based mentoring might be counter-productive

Young boy raising his hand in classroomSchwartz S. O., Rhodes, J. E., & Herrera, C. (2012). The influence of meeting time on academic outcomes in school-based mentoring. Children and Youth Services Review, 34, 1, 2319-2326

Method: Participants in the study (N = 1,139) were part of the national evaluation of the Big Brothers Big Sisters school-based mentoring program, about half of whom had been randomly assigned to receive mentoring at their schools. Within the treatment group, 44% were in programs in which matches met after school, 25% were in programs in which matches met during the school day excluding lunch, 6% were in programs in which matches met during lunch, and 26% were in programs in which matches met at various times during and after school.

Findings: Among academically at-risk youth, the impact of school-based mentoring on academic outcomes was affected by the time during which matches met. Specifically, academically vulnerable youth derived significant academic benefits from mentoring in programs that met after school or during lunch. In programs that met during school as a pullout program, there was no evidence of benefits and some evidence of negative effects on academic outcomes. Implications of the findings for research and intervention are discussed.

Caveats Of course, it is possible that programs that are implemented after school are simply stronger programs. Surprisingly, however, programs that met during the school day had generally been implemented in the school for a greater number of years, indicating a greater degree of establishment and stability. Differences in the amount of time matches spend together and what they do during that time may have also accounted for differences in impacts. Specifically, in programs that met after school, mentors tended to meet for a longer amount of time, were more likely to spend time engaged in academic activities, and were more likely to have a case manager present. It is possible that these differences contributed to the differential impacts observed. For example, research has suggested that mentoring is more effective in higher dosages. Yet, the difference between duration of meetings was not large, with programs that met during the school day tending to meet for approximately 46 to 60 minutes, while after school meetings tended to last a little over an hour (Herrera et al., 2007). In addition, it is possible that spending a greater amount of time on academic activities in after-school programs contributed to academic gains. Other research on mentoring, however, suggests that relationship-focused activities and discussions are associated with greater benefits to youth and greater levels of mentor satisfaction than more goal-oriented or academically-focused activities (Karcher, 2007; Karcher, 2008). Moreover, even programs that met after school and during lunch reported spending less than half of match time on academics.

Implications This study highlights the benefits of participating in SBM programs during extracurricular time such as after school and during lunch. In fact, literature from outside the mentoring field points to the benefits of after-school programming that provides students with opportunities for safe and constructive activities (e.g. Miller, 2003), which can reinforce the learning that takes place in school (Mahoney, Parente, & Zigler, 2010). In addition to providing youth with a caring adult relationship, after-school SBM programs allow youth to engage in positive, constructive activities after school when they otherwise might have nothing else to do. This may be especially beneficial to youth from lower socio-economic backgrounds who are less likely to have access to high-quality after-school opportunities (Duffett & Johnson, 2004; Little, 2007). There is also some research to support the efficacy of mentoring during school lunch, such as the “Lunch Buddy” mentoring for bullied children (Ellridge, Cavell, Ogle, & Newgent, 2010). These programs may work, in part, by providing youth with a partner whom other youth admire, helping to redress social difficulties. In light of the small number of programs employing lunch mentoring, the current study did not investigate mentoring during lunch separately from after-school mentoring.  Future studies are recommended based on the present encouraging finding about school-based mentoring that occurs during extracurricular time.

Conclusions Despite some methodological limitations, this study calls attention to the role that meeting time may play in moderating the impacts of SBM and the possible iatrogenic effects of class-time disruption. Although additional research on programs is indicated, the findings highlight the need for caution in structuring mentoring and other youth development programs in ways that draw children from valuable class time.