Mentoring programs are a strategy at the middle school level aimed at improving graduation rates. Connecticut’s Jones-Zimmermann Academic Mentoring Program, launched in 2001, pairs college students with middle school students below grade level in math and English.
Mentors are compensated, and work one-on-one with a student for three years, meeting after school twice a week. Mentors not only help with homework, but take students on field trips and teach them to make videos or play basketball, among other skills. “Social and academic mentoring is something we can do now to help these kids—it doesn’t require curriculum overhaul or administration changes,” says Kristin Miskavage, vice president and program director of the Marie & John Zimmermann Fund, which launched a free mentoring program with three universities in Connecticut in 2001.
Among the at-risk students who participate, 85 percent graduate, she says. The overall graduation rate in the 50 largest U.S. cities is only 52 percent. “The program helps inner-city students catch up to grade-level expectations, and focus on what is possible for them to achieve, even inspiring realistic goals to pursue higher education,” Miskavage says.
In Orange County (Calif.) Public Schools in the 1980s, middle school students were often unsupervised after school and surrounded by crime, says Rocky Robinson, program manager of COMPACT, an education and business partnership to help at-risk students.
In 1989, Orange County schools implemented COMPACT, and today, local businesses, including Disney World, Universal Studios, banks, and law firms, help fund the program and provide mentors to help students graduate better prepared for college or entry-level jobs.
And since it started, crime has dropped in the areas with COMPACT programs, Robinson says. “It’s the coping skills and learning how to positively and effectively deal with other people that a number of our students don’t have because all they get in their environment is negativity,” Robinson says. “Our kids want to be successful, they just don’t know how to get there.”