What is literacy-enhanced mentoring (LEM) and can it improve youth match outcomes?

Peaslee, L., Teye, A. C., & Baker, J. S. (2022). Promising practices for improving the match outcomes of young children: An evaluation of the school-based literacy-enhanced mentoring (LEM) program. Child & Youth Care Forum. 


Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest:

  • Although recent research indicates that instrumental relationship styles can strengthen school-based mentoring, there’s a lack of studies that explore this with young, school-age children (3rd graders and below). 
  • This study examines the impact a school-based literacy-enhanced mentoring (LEM) program had on relationship strength, match length, & early match closure. 
  • The LEM program didn’t have a notable impact on match quality. Both groups were able to develop and maintain strong connections early on in the mentorship.
  • Although premature closures decreased in mentees who experience personal, family, & neighborhood risk factors, treatment didn’t correlate with early match closure for the entire LEM group.
  • Participating in LEM also correlated with justification for early match closure. 
  • Instrumental mentoring can work well with young kids without compromising match length & quality as long as they have structured activities & solid academic goals, in addition to match support & enhanced mentoring training. 

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract) 


Recent research suggests that instrumental relationship styles can enhance the effectiveness of school-based mentoring, however, little research has been conducted with young children. This study reports findings from a three-year evaluation of an instrumental Literacy-Enhanced Mentoring (LEM) program that integrates a structured, literacy component into a school-based mentoring program for children in kindergarten through second grade.


The primary research objective was to assess the association between LEM enhancements and key match outcomes: relationship strength, match length, and early match closure, as these indicators are important moderators of a broad range of program effects. Researchers also aimed to determine whether the LEM literacy components had been implemented as designed and whether reasons for closure were different for matches in the LEM and traditional BBBS mentoring programs.


This quasi-experimental study employs propensity score matching to achieve equivalent comparison groups among LEM matches (n = 64) and traditional BBBS school-based matches (n = 64). Researchers also utilize agency-collected match activity data to assess program fidelity.


Participation in the LEM program was not associated with mentors’ reports of relationship strength or match length. Treatment was not associated with early match closure for the full LEM group, although there were reductions in early closure among subgroups of mentees with certain types of individual, family, and neighborhood risk. LEM participation was also associated with reasons for early match closure.


Despite extant research suggesting that developmental mentoring is better suited for young children and instrumental mentoring for older children and youth, in this study, goal-directed literacy enhancements were implemented in a mentoring program without compromising relationship quality or match length. Findings are limited by the study’s research design, particularly lack of random assignment and data regarding the match activities of the comparison group. Findings from this study suggest that instrumental mentoring may be a promising approach to mentoring young children.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

This study sought to examine the impact of the Literacy-Enhanced School-Based Mentoring program (LEM) on key match outcomes. These included relationship strength, match length, early match closure, and reasons for closure. This paper also sought to understand whether the LEM program’s literature components were implemented with fidelity to program design and whether these goal-oriented activities would be sustained over the life of a match. Given the relative dearth of systematic inquiry on structured school-based mentoring enhancements with children in early elementary school, researchers were uncertain as to whether the program’s literacy goals would be consistently adopted among mentors and mentees, or whether the program’s structured components would compromise the ability of matches to develop strong, high-quality, and long-lasting relationships. As noted, extant research has suggested that instrumental mentoring is better suited for older children and adolescents and that a purely developmental approach may be better for young children.

Among the six key fidelity indicators analyzed, findings suggested literacy activities were largely implemented as planned and generally sustained over time. One exception was noted in frequency of reading, wherein 17% fewer LEM mentors read at every visit at the final check-in. While this finding seems aligned with the trajectory of an institutional mentoring model, wherein matches begin to focus more on relational activities or support other youth interests, as a program designed to enhance literacy skills, mentors had been instructed to continue the reading activities throughout the duration of the match. It is unclear whether this shift influenced relationship strength or associated literacy outcomes, however, this will be addressed in future research.

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