Students reap personal and academic benefits
Anyone of any age can benefit from having a mentor. Particularly for young people, mentors provide a unique blend of guidance, insight, confidence and friendship that can help them deal with immediate issues in their lives and develop lifelong skills.
January is National Mentoring Month, designed to highlight the importance of mentoring and help students develop these key relationships.
The importance of mentoring
Chances are you’ve seen anecdotal evidence of the benefits in your own life, but research backs it up. According to MENTOR, an organization working to fuel the quality and quantity of mentoring relationships for America’s young people, 90% of students who have a mentor are interested in becoming a mentor. Students with mentors are also:
55% less likely than their peers to skip a day of school
78% more likely to volunteer regularly
130% more likely to hold leadership positions
Just how does mentoring achieve such great results? In many ways, the most important benefit of mentoring is providing a secure way for students to expand their knowledge of who they are, what they care about and what they want to do. Developing this understanding and building the related skills are especially important for students who are deaf or hard of hearing.
“The most important role of people mentoring youth is to help them explore their passions and their purpose,” said Abigail Ellis, executive director of MENTOR Independence Region. “Youth-centered mentoring, where youth voice and youth choice are the drivers for engagement and activities, is the most effective mentoring.”
She added that the benefits of mentoring stem from the student having a consistent, caring adult who can serve as a “guide-on-the-side” as they pursue interests and build their skills.
Mentors provide another key role by helping to create a sense of community for students who may not feel they have one. “If the student knows someone is checking in on them regularly, this camaraderie could improve attendance and their overall outlook on school,” noted Kasia Wassung, MED, teacher of the deaf at Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech
In the best mentoring outcomes, students carry that sense of community can impact students well into adulthood. “Mentoring can be thought of as something that helps youth to build strong roots,” said Abigail. She noted that mentoring has been likened to taking a vitamin—the benefits end when you stop—but anecdotally many people who have been mentored learn lessons they use throughout their lives. “I’m sure almost every one of us can think back to a valuable relationship with a formal or informal mentor who helped us to develop our identities and build skills,” she added.
Finding mentors for students with hearing loss
For students who have hearing loss, an effective mentoring experience is even more beneficial. In many cases, a student might be the only one in their school, or even their town, who has hearing loss. “A mentor who has experienced similar seasons of difficulties, insecurities—and victories—is invaluable,” said Kasia.
She said some of the younger students she works with often aren’t aware there are others with hearing aids or cochlear implants and are surprised to find out they’re not alone. She gives her students opportunities to learn about influential people who are deaf or hard of hearing throughout history and to write letters to other students with hearing loss to facilitate that sense of connection.
But for all students, finding a great mentor is easier said than done—in fact, less than one percent of adults volunteer as youth mentors. Abigail said formal mentoring programs help—people are three times more likely to become mentors if their employer supports youth mentoring. Even so, those mentors typically only have so much time to devote to mentoring. She added that formal mentoring programs can also provide critical training for mentors since not everyone has the skills to be an effective mentor or understands the role of a mentor.
“[There] is mentoring that happens outside a formalized relationship… These are more difficult to count, but very valuable,” Abigail added.
The long reach of mentoring
The other side of mentoring is that students who have had successful mentoring experiences are more likely to serve as mentors to others. Case in point: Mercy, 17, a senior at Everett High School in Everett, Massachusetts, is a member of the Everett Youth Council and has benefited from a great mentoring relationship. Now, she’s helping other students.
Mercy has hearing loss, attends a mainstream school and receives teacher of the deaf services through Clarke. Earlier this year she was working with Leaders of Tomorrow, a youth-led organization which she advised on issues related to students with disabilities. “After that ended, I wanted to do more,” Mercy said. She was inspired by her own experience as a sophomore being mentored by a senior student who was also part of Leaders of Tomorrow.
“I had the idea for a while but with her help and inspiration this past April, I started my own club for students with disabilities,” Mercy said. It’s called Youth Disability Empowerment, or YDE for short.
Right now, the club is primarily engaging students and teachers through social media. Mercy uses the platform to increase awareness of disability issues and talk about inclusion. She noted that currently most of her followers are teachers and students who don’t have disabilities, in part because social media can be difficult to access for some students with disabilities. “Responses have been very supportive and have appreciated getting the perspective of a non-able person,” said Mercy. “They have really taken my advice—especially my teachers. They’ve been very supportive in changing their language and perspectives.”
The project has been eye-opening for Mercy as well. She said she was surprised to learn how little most people know about people with disabilities and their history. One example she cited: Many people who follow YDE on social media didn’t realize people with disabilities were one of the groups targeted during the Holocaust.
Mercy noted that it can be hard for any student to find a good mentor, especially for students with disabilities. “People with disabilities have trouble finding mentors because they haven’t walked where we have walked,” she said. “The mentors I need who are also black females with disabilities are very few. So, I have to have different mentors for different parts of my identity. That one person who understands all of me isn’t there—but I also have many people I can draw on as resources.”
While YDE is just starting out, Mercy is optimistic that the project will grow and can open doors for other students. “I want other people to find their mentors—and maybe eventually mentor someone else,” she said.
Note: All statistics related to mentoring are from Mentoring.org