What is one of the most powerful tools to prevent teens from taking a troubled path, skipping school or dropping out? Experts agree – it’s mentoring. Oprah Winfrey credits her teacher/mentor for helping her overcome a troubled childhood and putting her on a path to success.
January is National Mentoring Month, and a reminder of how important mentoring is for young people. Studies show that when teens are mentored 59 percent earn better grades, 52 percent are less likely to skip school and 27 percent are less likely to begin using alcohol. Youth with mentors have better attitudes about school, increased social-emotional development and improved self-esteem.
Learn4Life, a network of 85+ charter high schools that focus on at-risk students has ramped up its mentoring programs over the past year, to help young people grow into adulthood while earning their diploma. “Mentoring isn’t just for kids from a single parent home—it’s for anyone who is missing something in their life,” explained Dr. Christopher DeLoach, assistant principal at Learn4Life in Lancaster, Calif. “Often it’s a lack confidence or having a strong adult in their life to teach them skills to overcome struggles and focus on self-improvement.”
While teachers and counselors at Learn4Life have always been mentors to their students, DeLoach wanted to formalize the program, and started small-group Forum mentoring sessions. These were especially helpful to students when, COVID fears were growing, the country was going into lockdown, and both students and teachers were struggling with online learning.
In May, after the death of George Floyd, he saw how deeply affected his male, African American students were. “So we started PUSH (Pursuing unity, scholarship and health) to guide our young Black students through difficult times and give them an opportunity to express their feelings about the country, the response to racial injustice and the COVID-19 lockdown,” DeLoach said. “Then we saw our non-Black students and girls interested being paired with a mentor and joining in in our weekly, small-group video chats.”
The PUSH mentorship program is being rolled out to other Learn4Life locations this year, according to DeLoach, and teachers are being trained as mentors with an emphasis on charisma, passion and empathy. “Longevity is a key element in mentoring,” he explained. “It’s important to continue to be that important adult in our students’ lives while they are in high school and beyond.”