MENTOR Vermont believes that every young person in Vermont who wants a mentor should have that opportunity, from their early school years until they successfully enter adulthood. The K-12 Mentoring Initiative is a project, in collaboration with direct-service mentoring programs, to create the statewide infrastructure needed to turn this vision into a reality.
Based on a 2014 study by MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership, one in three young Vermonters will enter adulthood without having a structured or informal mentor in their lives. There is also a definitive education gap between students from low-income backgrounds and their peers. The 2018 Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium test results revealed, for the third consecutive year, that low-income students in Vermont (as a group) did not meet proficiency standards in any subject or grade level.
And, according to the Vermont Agency of Education and Vermont Student Assistance Corporation, while Vermont has one of the higher high school graduation rates in the country at 88%, there is a significant post-secondary gap: nearly 75% of seniors aspire to attend post-secondary education, but only 59% end up enrolling. Based on data from the J. Warren and Lois McClure Foundation, that percentage drops even lower for youth living in poverty: only 37% of youth from low-income households end up pursuing any additional education after graduating from high school.
National research from Big Brothers Big Sisters of America shows that youth who are matched in a formal mentoring relationship for at least 18 months are 52% less likely to skip a day of school, and 55% more likely to go on to college. According to the 2019 Vermont Mentoring Surveys, more than 86% of mentors in Vermont report playing a direct role in their mentee’s education, ranging from reading books together to talking with them about the importance of school to regularly connecting with their teachers or guidance counselor to helping them explore post-secondary education and career options.
There are four primary barriers preventing youth in Vermont from having the opportunity to be matched with a mentor through high school and beyond:
- A scarcity of mentoring programs in more rural areas of the state (such as the Northeast Kingdom)
- In areas that do have mentoring programs, a lack of program options for older youth
- In parts of the state that have programs that serve younger youth and others that serve older youth, the lack of an organized system for transitioning matches from one program to another
- A lack of capacity for existing programs to take on new mentees or support matches that transition from another program
Since 2015, MENTOR Vermont has been partnering with more than 20 mentoring agencies and 100 mentoring program sites that MENTOR Vermont supports financially to begin turning the K-12 vision into a reality.
Since 2015, MENTOR Vermont has formalized and expanded collaborative partnerships between mentoring programs to allow mentor matches to transition from one program to another, so that mentor matches do not end simply because a young person moves or ages out of a program.
The more than 100 youth mentoring programs in the Initiative currently support around 1,800 one-to-one mentor matches, with more than 90% of youth served living in poverty. While these programs are providing invaluable services, given the large number of at-risk youth who are not being mentored, there is a critical need to establish new programs and increase the capacity of existing programs.
In 2019-2020, MENTOR Vermont is continuing to support the growth of mentoring programs in three school districts that previously supported mentoring only through middle school. MENTOR Vermont is also looking to increase the capacity of community-based mentoring programs that support youth through adolescence. Additionally, MENTOR Vermont will work with all partner agencies to facilitate transitioning of mentor matches between programs, and the growth of all existing mentoring programs that serve middle and high school students. Lastly, MENTOR Vermont is exploring the possibility of launching new programs in underserved areas of the state.
Additionally, MENTOR Vermont will continue to develop and enhance resources for mentors to help address the post-secondary gap. In collaboration with Careers CLiC and other stakeholders in Vermont, MENTOR Vermont is developing a Career and College Resource Guide for mentors to help them better support their teenage mentees in exploring their education and career options while setting goals for life after high school.