Helping One Student To Succeed (HOSTS) Program
*Note: The National Mentoring Resource Center makes these “Insights for Mentoring Practitioners” available for each program or practice reviewed by the National Mentoring Resource Center Research Board. Their purpose is to give mentoring professionals additional information and understanding that can help them apply reviews to their own programs. You can read the full review on the Crime Solutions website.
In considering the key takeaways from the research on this program that other mentoring programs can apply to their work, it’s useful to reflect on the features and practices that might have influenced its rating as “Promising” (that is, a program that shows some evidence that it achieves justice-related goals when implemented with fidelity).
1. Mentoring as a collective practice.
One of the great questions of mentoring is what configuration of mentors and youth is the right one for meeting certain needs. When is a group approach the right one? Or perhaps a team approach where the youth is matched with multiple mentors at once? Well, in the case of the HOSTS program, they have settled on mentors as a distributed activity where youth meet with a mentor from the available pool at their school, but there is no guarantee that it is the same person each time—in fact they might meet with a different mentor each of the four days of the week. Is it possible for youth to form the bonds we associate with good mentoring when the role of the mentor is played by a different person each time? In the case of HOSTS, the answer seems to be that, at the very least, youth can benefit from this collective approach to mentoring, perhaps because of an emphasis on training that ensures mentors all bring a similar mindset to their work
The HOSTS Program provides two hours of training to its group of tutors/mentors emphasizing their role in supporting the reading and academic development of youth while emphasizing a mentoring mindset—the ability to develop an interpersonal bond and build the youth’s self-esteem and self –confidence around academics and beyond. Thus all of the tutors are trained to be supportive and caring adult mentors contributing to a welcoming learning environment for all youth in the program. There have been other examples in the literature of mentors in programs emphasizing a general set of skills, temperament, and relational approach, rather than unique personality characteristics or qualities that lead to bonding with the youth. Examples of this include the Lunch Buddies program where the person mentoring each student rotates each semester and the Brief Instrumental Mentoring Program, which emphasizes mentors and youth having a strong “working alliance” focused on the task at hand rather than forming a unique and personal bond. HOSTS adds to these examples as a program where mentors can meet with any child because they are all focused on the unique lesson plan of the child and they all bring, in theory, a similar set of skills and approaches, even though they will obviously differ in personality and background.
This structure brings up a few questions worth exploring for other mentoring programs:
- Does mentoring in your model need to be provided by the same person? Can you leverage the power of community by training and recruiting a diverse web of community members to provide roughly the same experience?
- How do you create a culture where all adults in the same context adopt a mentoring mindset as they interact with a range of young people? Is it possible in your program context to create an environment where any adult could mentor any student?
The HOSTS program is able to take this communal approach to mentoring because of a few factors that may not apply to other situations: 1) The program is heavily focused on tutoring and the completion of each student’s individualized weekly reading plans. This means that mentors aren’t getting deep into personal issues or challenges where switching mentors would disrupt the “progress” of the match. 2) The meetings are frequently observed by the program coordinator as they are happening. This allows the program to correct mentor behavior that strays from that ideal delivery as it happens, homogenizing the mentoring experience over time. In fact, let’s look at that coordinator role a bit more closely…
2. Program coordinator as active conductor, not distant administrator.
Another feature of HOSTS that allows for that collective mentoring approach is that the site coordinator really acts as the constant for the program, filling a role not terribly dissimilar from that of an orchestra conductor who coordinates and manages the parts of each of the players. In this case, the coordinator is responsible for doing the initial assessments of each youth’s reading strengths and weaknesses, as well as the weekly lesson plans that build on the progress the student is making and adjusts frequently to fill in remaining gaps. This takes pressure off mentors to come up with activities each time they meet with the students. It also means that, in theory, any of the program’s mentors can meet with any child in a plug-and-play approach. That weekly lesson plan drives everything. Needless to say, most mentoring programs do not task one program coordinator with coming up with individualized plans for each and every mentee served, let alone doing that weekly. But here it makes sense—the HOSTS platform makes selecting appropriate lessons easy and even provides access to over 16,000 individual lessons, each of which can address a specific area of need.
But the coordinator role doesn’t stop there. As noted above, they are frequently observing pairs meeting to make sure that the tutors are not only following the lessons as intended, but are also engaging the youth in all those “mentor-like” ways that create a supportive learning culture. In this way, they can make sure that there is fidelity to each student’s plan while also ensuring that the “whole orchestra” sounds good and is hitting the right notes. For most programs considering taking a “collective” approach to mentoring where mentors and youth meet randomly in an unmatched context, having a coordinator be responsible for this level of, well, coordination makes a lot of sense. Someone has to have an understanding of each youth’s needs once the decision is made to take the mentor out of that role. Providing that coordinator with lots of extra training and practical support, as the HOSTS platform does, also makes a lot of sense.
3. Importance of clear mission.
Another strength of the HOSTS Program is its clear focus on reading outcomes. While the program does claim a desire to improving students’ language arts skills more broadly, including reading, writing, vocabulary, thinking, and study skills, there is a very clear emphasis on reading fluency and comprehension. Secondary program goals include improved behavior, attitudes, and self-esteem, but once again, these are so secondary as to not even be examined in this evaluation. This tight focus makes so many aspects of the program easier, to the skills mentors must be trained in to the loose match structure to the engagement of teachers and parents/guardians. Unlike many mentoring programs that have to prepare for all kids of conversations and issues and youth needs, HOSTS gets to focus tightly on doing one thing and doing it well. And with a rating of “promising” that seems to be working.
Although the evaluation hews to that tight focus, it also seems to be a bit of a missed opportunity. It would have been nice to know if that improvement in reading led to other academic gains, of if those feelings of academic confidence that the mentors were trained to bring out perhaps led to improved behavior at school. But the evaluation, much like the program, had a tight focus, and we are left to wonder what else HOSTS can achieve beyond some modest gains in reading comprehension.
For more information on research-informed program practices and tools for implementation, be sure to consult the Elements of Effective Practice for Mentoring™ and the "Resources" section of the National Mentoring Resource Center site.