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Measuring Mentoring

A federal judge’s restraining order against Proposition 209, the state anti-affirmative action measure, has not affected plans to end such programs at University of California campuses. Educators are seeking new ways to keep the percentage of minority students at the top campuses from plummeting; one attractive concept is mentoring. There are no definitive studies of the benefits of mentoring, but people who have taken part come away believers that they produce enhanced achievement among both gifted and at-risk students. JIM BLAIR spoke with administrators, mentors and students at two very different programs.

Boosting Bad Odds

CAROLE DONAHUE

Teacher, mentor program coordinator at El Camino Real High School, Woodland Hills

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Mentoring is a personal, one to one, relationship between an older and a younger person for the purpose of passing on knowledge, experience and judgment and for providing guidance and friendship. It gives the participants an extra support system to help them achieve a higher level of academic success by recognizing that they have different needs.

El Camino is a top school, but we also have students with problems, overwhelmed by high school, lacking skills or focus.

We work with students from all ethnicities and economic levels who are not succeeding academically, especially ninth graders. Those who can be helped by mentoring are the ones who want to be helped and who are willing to make a commitment to change their lives by working with a mentor.

Last year, our first year, 50% of those we approached joined the program. This year about 120 of approximately 950 in our freshman class were considered academically at risk, with low grades on their first report cards. More than 90% have signed up and they’re still coming in.

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Our job is to prepare these kids for a high school diploma, to get their basic skills and be successful. If they go to college, that’s wonderful. We would encourage them to do that.

We match students with two mentors--student and adult--based on gender, ethnicity if possible, and similarity of interests. The closer the match the more the likelihood of success. The student mentors are usually successful 11th and 12th grade honors students, though some are sophomores--last year’s participants who have become mentors. Our adult mentors, and we need more, include members of the community, staff, teachers, parents and students from CSUN, including some who previously attended El Camino. Mentors meet with their students once a week and turn in a monthly summary of the meetings. The students have to keep a record of their meetings with their mentors. We check grades, attendance and discipline referrals regularly. These kids are really monitored. Sixty percent of last year’s participants passed more classes and had fewer discipline referrals than before they started the program.

We want students to get the skills that they need to make it in the workplace and in college, too, if they want that--but not to drop out. These kids are the future of our society. It’s in the community’s best interest that they graduate and be productive and self-sufficient.

To get involved: www.lausd.k12.ca.us

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