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Word of Caution Before Kasich Designs Mentor Program For Ohio Schools

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Thursday, February 27, 2014 at 6:47 PM

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In his obligatory state of the state turned campaign speech Monday night, Governor John Kasich said he wanted to start a program aimed at helping students graduate.

His so-called Community Connectors Initiative would bring together business professionals, community members, teachers and parents to serve as mentors for students.

Mentoring is frequently touted as an easy way to partner kids with role models who will help keep them on track academically.

But experts say designing mentor programs that demonstrate measurable results for students is not as simple as matching a caring adult with a student at-risk of dropping out.

“We all know that mentoring has been proven to work.  But it’s more complicated than that,” says Tim Cavell, a University of Arkansas psychology professor and an expert on mentoring.  He was one of the guests on WOSU’s All Sides with Ann Fisher on Thursday.

You can listen to the full interview here.

Cavell says youth mentoring in programs like Big Brothers Big Sisters started as a charitable service for kids who didn't have a father for a role model. That's still part of the mission of some programs, but the purpose of many of them has changed.

"More recently there's been an attempt to cast mentoring as a prevention strategy, as something more targeted, or akin to an intervention.  And the problem is that research to guide that kind of work is relatively new.  It's a pretty immature research field."

Cavell makes the distinction between different approaches toward mentoring.  He says the traditional, generic approach used by Big Brothers Big Sisters places students with mentors without having a specific outcome in mind.  Such programs show students tend to make small gains in several areas.

In contrast, Cavell says more focused mentor programs match kids with adults with an intended outcome in mind--like helping kids combat bullying or earn better grades, for example.

And Cavell says mentor relationships can be close knit and one on one, or they can occur in larger ratios of one adult serving several students.

So which approach works best?

“Research is still trying to figure out what’s effective for whom and under what conditions.”Cavell says.

Governor Kasich hasn't given any specifics about exactly which approach his Community Connectors Initiative would take.  But he has said he might use programs like the Cincinnati Youth Collaborative or Toledo's Schools as Community Hubs effort as models.

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