Rochester Resilience Project
*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 features and practices might have influenced its rating as “Promising” (that is, a program that shows encouraging, but not definitive evidence of effectiveness).
Can a mentoring program with some non-traditional components be effective?
When looking at the research on the Rochester Resilience Project, it becomes immediately clear that this program is structured and delivered in a way that sets it apart from many youth mentoring programs. The mentors in this program are not volunteers, but rather are paraprofessionals (school district employees), trained to deliver a very specific curriculum intended to produce specific behavioral changes in children who are struggling with regulating their emotions and emotional reactions to conflict. Rather than spending the majority of their time engaged in activities intended to build trust and bonding, these mentors, are all tasked with using a curriculum to deliver a series of hierarchically-ordered skills trainings to their mentees in weekly, 25-minute one-on-one sessions. With 111 children in the intervention group in this research, it is assumed that each mentor was working with over 25 students. Over the course of the 14 weeks of the program, each student met with his or her mentor for approximately only seven total hours. The short duration, emphasis of sequential activities, the tightly-focused curriculum, the mentor-mentee ratio, and paid professional status of the mentors are all elements that differ from what we typically see in school-based mentoring programs.
But results from evaluations of programs like this should get practitioners thinking about how their mentoring programs produce results and challenging some assumptions about what mentoring “should” look like to be effective. It’s worth noting, for example, that this program utilizes a curriculum built on a wealth of research on how children can manage their emotions, understand the emotions of others, and change their behavior to avoid conflicts with peers and teachers. Rather than assuming that mentors will inherently have impactful conversations about these topics, this program uses a set curriculum that addresses: 1) Monitoring of one’s own and others’ emotions; 2) Self-control and reducing escalation of emotions; and 3) Skills for maintaining control and equilibrium. If mentoring programs really want to produce targeted outcomes, it’s worth considering the integration of targeted curricula and more structured meetings, rather than working from the assumption that positive outcomes will inherently flow from a positive mentoring relationship.
Can mentoring work with younger students?
In the case of the Rochester Resilience Project, the answer seems to be yes. Most school-based mentoring programs seem to serve students starting in about grade 5, with middle and high school students being perhaps the most common age ranges. There are several reasons for this: younger students may not have displayed the behavioral or attitudinal challenges that mentoring could address and young children may be less well-equipped developmentally to understand the role and value of a mentor. But this program targeted children in the K-3 range and produced significant impacts. When working with children of this age, a hierarchical curriculum like the one used here may be a key factor in producing results. A curriculum like this builds skills slowly and sequentially, allowing the student to absorb and understand a lesson and then practice new skills in the classroom setting. The close coordination of the lessons with teachers, intended to enlist teachers in reinforcing the skills being taught back in the classroom setting, may also have been a key to making this program work for younger students.
Can focusing on social-emotional skills pay off in the classroom?
This program targets young students who have just begun showing the kinds of emotional and behavioral problems that would lead to classroom and academic struggles down the road. In some ways, this is a very early intervention for these students, an attempt to teach and build skills for regulating emotions and behaviors that, ideally, will serve these students over their long journey through the school system. In the short term, the mentored students stayed on task in the classroom more than their non-mentored peers and had fewer disciplinary issues and suspensions. So clearly this program had an immediate impact on classroom behavior and positioning these students for more success at school. By helping these children learn to manage their emotions and behaviors more effectively, the program may have set the stage for a lifetime of better behavior and stronger relationships with peers and adults, both in and out of school. It would be wonderful to see a long-term follow up with these students to see if indeed their new skills and ways of behaving have a lasting effect later in elementary school and beyond.
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.