This Public/Private Ventures article titled, "Mentoring, Policy and Politics", written by Gary Walker, focuses on the promise and the reality of mentoring.
The final sentence of this report, in a section titled “Future Directions” states “Infiltration, not consolidation, is where mentoring’s greatest usefulness lies in the years ahead.”
Over the years my understanding of mentoring or tutoring, as a stand-alone strategy have evolved to where I understand these as part of a “comprehensive” or “long-term” strategy, that reaches youth in high risk neighborhoods, such as in inner-city Chicago, New York, Detroit, etc. , and supports youth in many ways that are aimed at helping these kids be entering jobs and careers by their mid 20s.
As I’ve built a database of Chicago organizations that offer various forms of youth development, tutoring and/or mentoring, I’ve divided our database by different categories, such as pure mentoring, pure tutoring/homework help, or a combination tutor/mentor program.
In each category, programs self-select, telling us what type of program they are. As you look at the web sites of the various organizations, it’s easy to see that there is a great variation in what programs do, how they describe themselves, and how they integrate mentoring, and the adult volunteer, into their actions.
If you think of a wheel, which we use in many of our graphics, the hub of the Tutor/Mentor wheel is a strategy which reaches kids early, and sticks with kids until they are in jobs. The spokes of this wheel represent the many different types of organizational strategies that are present in Chicago, ranging from tutoring, mentoring, to arts, sports, recreation, workforce development, tutor/mentoring, etc.
By sharing information about poverty, high school drop out rates, the changes in the workforce, youth violence, etc. we build a case for longer term strategies that combine many different age appropriate supports, in individual programs. By helping organizations recruit volunteers, find dollars, and find networking and training opportunities, we help programs learn from each other, and hopefully, move toward the hub of this wheel, so that ultimately many program strategies converge around mentoring as part of a comprehensive, long-term workforce development strategy and public policy.
I encourage you to read the P/PV report with this goal in mind. Where does your mentoring strategy fit in this long term goal? How does your funding strategy support the operations and constant improvement of programs that need to stay in a community for decades, not two or three years?
As I read this report, it became clear to me that the tutor/mentor strategy I’ve been advocating is different from the mainstream views of mentoring, and. why I’m not connecting strategically with the national leaders of the mentoring movement.
In this report, Walker writes about how the promotion of the BBBS brand of mentoring, based on 1995 P/PV research, creates the illusion that “volunteers can transform the lives of youth” and that we don’t need big government. Big Brothers Big Sisters is the brand name and face of this publicly accepted form of the mentoring movement, and has grown dramatically as a result.
Walker writes about how mentoring has earned its growing support because it has “results”, “referring to P/PV’s 1995 impact study of the Big Brothers Big Sisters Program, which produced evidence that mentoring had positive impacts on a range of important elements in a youth’s life.”
Yet, in the report, Walker concedes that the BBBS results research are limited. “Though the impact findings are real and impressive, in fact they apply only to the 18 months after mentoring began … thus “we have no scientific evidence that mentoring turns lives around.”
He also shares that it’s not the most at-risk youth who are likely to be in traditional BBBS type mentoring programs. He writes, “Mentoring’s strengths, based on experience and data, are generally in the 8-through 13-year age range, and concentrated on 9-11-year-olds.” As Walker states “They are youth with responsible parents or teachers who want to connect them with mentors”, not the youth who are most in need of mentors and more extensive adult support.
I’ve recognized this limit in the mentoring research for a long time, as well as the need for mentoring, as part of a larger strategy, to be reaching kids in high poverty areas. At one point, I coned the term “Total Quality Mentoring (TQM)” to give a name to this larger and more comprehensive form of mentoring, borrowing from a business concept of Total Quality Management.
Walker’s report recognized the challenges of reaching this higher risk youth population. He talks about the challenges of recruiting volunteers to reach this more at risk population, and points to programs, such as Friends of the Children, in Portland, Oregon, who recognize that “These kids need help and support, lots of it, and they’re going to need it for a long time.”
Walkers conclusion does not recommend a one-size fits all national mentoring policy, rather, he encourages a strategy of “infiltration” where mentoring is a core component of many different strategies related to youth outcomes.
This is where we align, and I hope we can find ways to do that strategically.
I focus on "programs", or "organized, intentional structures", where the one-on-one mentor is one of many volunteers surrounding kids, and where the program itself, with its staff, facility, technology, are part of the glue that keeps kids and volunteers connected to each other for many years, or longer.
In such programs, the effort to engage the volunteer as leader and capacity builder is critically important to the long-term impact of the program on the youth. It’s just as important as is the direct involvement of the volunteer with the youth.
In fact, this is symbiotic. A strong connection of a youth and volunteer can lead a volunteer to become a stronger supporter of the mentoring program, and the youth.
I also differentiate between the needs of kids in huge cities, vs smaller communities, as well as the challenges of building strong and long-lasting programs in big cities. New York City has 1 million children in its public school system. LA has 720,000. Chicago has 420,000.
This creates much more complicated problems of connecting and staying connected to kids than do cities with 25,000 or fewer school children. Visit sites like
http://www.aecf.org/MajorInitiatives/KIDSCOUNT.aspx for more information showing the growing gaps between kids in urban poverty and others.
I feel research on tutoring and mentoring needs to segment the differences in mentoring, mentoring program design, availability and access, and infrastructure by the size of the city and the demographics of the population, as well as the availability and distribution of programs and resources to support programs in different zip codes of big cities. It's not enough to have a great program in 60640 and not in 60619 because these are two different sections of Chicago.
Finally, I focus on mentoring kids from 1st grade to careers. While the P/PV article talked about "the village it takes to raise a child" the BBBS model only takes the child for a few years and the BBBS research only showed impact after 18 months.
The nation’s workforce is calling on schools to produce more work ready young people, and the nation cannot afford to leave out minority kids living in big city neighborhoods. Thus, when I talk about mentoring, I'm talking about building a network of adults who are still connected to a kid, through a program, when that kid is beginning to look for a job.
Reading this policy brief made it clear to me that although I stand in the same crowd as the mentoring movement’s leaders, I’m on the edge, and am just as much in a youth development and workforce development crowd.
However, as leaders like Gary Walker point to future directions, we begin to align. There are numerous organizations beyond Big Brothers Big Sisters who offer various forms of mentoring and integrate volunteerism into the core strategies of their organizations. Search on the tutor/mentor category in the Program Locator and you’ll find many that are headed in this direction. Visit http://www.cabriniconnections.net and you’ll see how we integrate mentoring and tutoring into a long term Success Steps strategy.
I have not found much research that supports the type of long-term mentoring I'm talking about. However, the individual stories told by various tutor/mentor programs who have links on the web site, and our own personal experience support this broader strategy.
One of the things this article has prompted me to do is search via Google for organizations that include “comprehensive, long-term” in their program descriptions, or in their research reports.
If you integrate mentoring into your youth development, or career development program, or if you do research or write articles on this topic, please introduce yourself and submit your web site to be included on the http://www.tutormentorconnection.org site. If your company or foundation supports this type of strategy, we’d like to include you as well.
As we connect more and more leaders who integrate mentoring into larger strategies, we move from the corner of the conversation, to the middle, and then the lead. Ultimately, this can become the policy that is supported by government, business and philanthropy, and which leads more kids from poverty to 21st century jobs and careers.
What do you think? What’s your long-term vision? Do you share this on a blog? Can you describe this in the T/MC discussion forums? Can you join us?