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The Importance of Mentors

(1/28/2015  Note:  The links to the resources and publications have been updated.)

Good afternoon,

I want to highlight an excerpt from the January 15 OCTAE Connection that focuses on mentoring and discusses National Mentoring Month (January 2015).  Several national initiatives are highlighted -- My Brothers Keeper initiative and the Near-Peer Mentoring College Challenge.   Also described are other mentoring initiatives and programs of state and local governments, community-based organizations, schools, and other organizations.  What types of mentoring services have you implemented and used in your adult education programs?  What outcomes and benefits for students have you observed?

Gail Cope, LINCS Program Management Group

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The Importance of Mentors

National Mentoring Month provides the opportunity to highlight the importance of mentoring in the lives of so many of America’s youths, and to take note of the Obama administration’s initiatives that foster mentoring activities for all young adults who need them. 

The two major initiatives sponsored by the administration are 1) the mentoring focus part of the My Brother’s Keeper initiative and 2) the first lady’s Near-Peer Mentoring College Challenge, a part of the broader Reach Higher Initiative described in the November 13, 2014 OCTAE Connection (http://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/USED/bulletins/dc7cfe). 

In addition to these initiatives, state and local governments, individuals, schools, community-based organizations, faith-based organizations, and nonprofits are among those who have long been engaged in promoting both formal and informal mentoring activities for America’s youths.  (Some of the administration’s partners in its initiatives are identified at the United We Serve website (http://www.serve.gov/?q=site-page/mentoring).

Mentoring has many aspects and serves many different populations, all of which can be critical to the success of our youths.  Of special interest to the administration are those mentoring activities that focus on the psychological and social development of at-risk youths as well as their academic achievements.  Recent evidence shows that the appropriate development of children before entering school is key to their success, both in school and later life.  For many, being able to support this development is a normal part of family life.  For others, however, especially those raised in disadvantaged families, mentors can be crucial in providing what the Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman calls "lifelines for poor children" (see:  http://heckman.uchicago.edu/news/lifelines-poor-children-ny-times-opinionator-article). 

Heckman argues that current programs for these (disadvantaged) youths do not begin early enough, and neither do they produce the skills that are most important for personal and societal success.  (For works from Heckman and others on this and related subjects, visit the National Bureau of Economic Research’s website at http://www.nber.org/ .

The need for mentoring extends through elementary, secondary, and college education, where it is provided formally through teachers and counsellors.  New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman summarized the importance of academic mentoring in his Sept. 9, 2014, opinion piece, It Takes a Mentor (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/10/opinion/thomas-friedman-it-takes-a-mentor.html).

According to Friedman, this mentoring relationship, while worthwhile, is insufficient to meet the needs of students.  Thus, there is a need for more comprehensive and robust initiatives. 

Collectively, the efforts of the administration, state and local governments, individuals, and other organizations are essential if the crucial need for mentoring youths at a variety of levels is to be met.

Tags: mentoring, youth
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