A recent report on NBC Nightly News (see below, after a 30-second commercial) features SPARK, a mentoring program that claims that getting middle schoolers connected with professionals leads to lower dropout rates.
SPARK sounds like a great program. It’s pretty clear that early adolescence is the most important time to encourage kids to stay in school.
However, mentoring programs like SPARK don’t work just because they offer relevance to students. Sure, the kid in the video would love to design video games when he’s older.
But what’s more important, I think, than the cool-job factor is the relationship the students forge with their mentor. Here is a professional — a total stranger — who cares about them and their academics. That relationship builds over time, garners trust, and gives students another person (in addition to their family and their teacher) to impress and not to let down.
I see it in my students as well. Sometimes, my students will do more for a stranger than they will for me. After all, I’m there every day, and I’m just their teacher. They’ve had teachers before. But they haven’t had a professional writer, a journalist, a real estate agent, an attorney.