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April 24, 2018

6 Key Characteristics for a Successful Mentor Program for At-Risk Students

Laura Fair, a high school teacher in Grand Rapids, Michigan shares her ideas for creating a mentor program with at risk students at her school. Laura’s plan includes ideas like tough love, early intervention, and including charismatic teacher volunteers. Read on to learn more about Laura’s mentor program:

Key Characteristics to Creating a Successful School Mentor Program

1) Smaller is better

In a school of 1,100 and 55 teachers this does not lend itself to small groups. But of those students, a smaller number fit the varying levels of at ­risk. I would like to expand the definition to the traditional at­risk to add all students failing one class. As it is summer and I can not reach the actual statistics easily I will use rough estimation. If 400 students now qualify under the broadened definition this connects students at an 8:1 ratio. Each teacher could be assigned 8 students including incoming freshman identified as 8th graders.

We have an advisory period built into each day. Students could be given passes during this time (as they are given for extra help) to meet with their mentor at least once a month. We currently do not give passes on Fridays, this could become mentor pass day, allowing the ratios to be even smaller by staggering the days.

2) Learn as I do not as I say

In addition to the mentoring program, we already have courses designed for students failing algebra. This course takes students that failed the first semester of algebra and remediates that semester during the second semester, instead of what they have traditionally done which is go on and struggle through second semester with little hope of success.

Although, I have great faith in the skills of the teachers that teach this course, it’s structured similar to the other math courses. Using a holistic and and project based approach would provide a more helpful learning style for the at risk students.

3) Tough Love

A mentoring program would increase accountability. The one on one approach builds a stronger rapport between a student and an adult. Positive attention and an appropriate adult relationship will build the love aspect. Forcing the student to be conscience of their progress and failures and holding them accountable brings the tough to the situation. Itreinforces metacognition on the part of the students in a safe and structured environment. Knowing they have someone helping them through the tough experiences like asking for extra help after falling behind or getting their schedule tailored to their needs, they will have more confidence and direction in following through.

4) Charismatic Teachers

A keystone of my proposal is to have teachers opt in as volunteers. It would not be mandatory or a part of their evaluation. We have a very motivated staff but some might not excel in this environment. Also, teachers that are dealing with an illness, family illness, approaching retirement or pregnancy might not be willing to give up the needed time this year and they should not feel obligated. But with only motivated and emotionally equipped staff working with the program, those staffer will be what is needed to maintain the proper tone and effort needed for success.

5) Learn Life Skills

While a focus of the mentor will be academic success, I hope for the mentors to take a more holistic approach to the needs of the students. They will mentor through job hunting,

Long range planning and coping with home stress that can affect success. They will provide a missing component in our school which is a connection between academics and future success.

Students could use some help in focus on the post school plan. A large number of our students come from families where a successful career or continued education is not common. Focusing the students towards a plan for after they complete high school, whether it be education, work force or any combination, they need experienced mentors in that capacity.

6) Early Intervention

Our school is working towards a mastery based curriculum at the elementary level and soon at the higher levels too. this provides elementry based early intervention. The mentoring program currently does not extend below the high school level. But it could still be considered early intervention.

Students could be identified at the quickly upon beginning to struggle or based on their middle school success. Upon identification they could be connected to a mentor. The mentor could begin working with the student on success strategies for their classes and alternatives if there is no recovery. The increased metacognition about their success and struggle and the continued accountability, will intervene in many cases.


Inspired by this assignment and my desire to find a way to assist at risk students in the coming year I have proposed to my superiors that I run a mentoring program beginning next year. I have received a very positive response from them and look forward to presenting the idea to school improvement and eventually putting into action.

To learn more about how you can engage the disengaged, connect with the disconnected, and reach the growing number of students in your classroom that are considered at-risk, register today for one of our Special Populations courses below.

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