*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 “Effective” (that is, a program that shows evidence that it achieves justice-related goals when implemented with fidelity).
“Deep” mentoring as a strategy for more meaningful support
The Quantum Opportunities program offers a nice example of mentoring viewed as inherently a longer-term strategy, not a brief engagement that can hopefully be renewed from year-to-year, if at all. The developers of the program are very intentional here about addressing what they see as a frequent set of issues in much of mentoring programming to date: the “short” (a year or so) duration of most academic-focused mentoring programs (i.e., those seeking to promote positive educational outcomes for participating youth), the limited nature of school-based relationships, and the expectation that measurable outcomes for participating youth will appear rapidly.
Quantum Opportunities is designed as a four-year program with, ideally, the same mentor (mentors were paid staff members and were required to hold a college degree and have experience in youth development) working with a student (called “Associates” in the program) from the beginning of 9th grade through graduation. There are other programs, such as Friends of the Children, that use paid staff in a mentoring role over long periods of time, but Quantum Opportunities has a distinctive focus exclusively on the high school years and all of the challenges that can pop up both in and out of school for youth over that time.
The mentoring offered by Quantum really does emphasize the depth of the engagement in the mentee’s life:
- Mentors are expected to get to know the Associate’s family and friends and integrate themselves into the existing web of support in the student’s life and in the community.
- Mentors serve as true advocates for the Associates, working with families and staff to attend parent-teacher conferences and other “institutional” meetings as needed. The evaluation noted that mentors often appeared in court proceedings or other such meetings where youth needed adult support or representation. It was also common for mentors to help Associates find summer employment and achieve other goals.
- Mentors also teach life skills around topics such as decision-making, personal responsibility, healthy behaviors, and civic engagement. These planned and structured skills-themed discussions are facilitated in in both one-on-one and group contexts. These life skills sessions are designed to give the youth skills that will help them solve problems in the present and thrive after they leave high school.
The program also gives its mentors clear roles and responsibilities within the broader suite of supports, such as dedicated tutoring and youth leadership, Quantum also provides. The program has even sought to determine the ideal number of hours that a student would participate in mentoring, tutoring, leadership training, and the other program activities over the course of a year. As such, this program offers a nice example of how to integrate long-term mentoring into other services and supports and provide a depth of mentoring relationship that fits with the overall theory of change of the program.
Using stipends to motivate and incentivize youth participation
The program provides youth with a modest stipend of $1.25 for each hour of participation, although the criteria for earning this stipend varied by participation level and other criteria across the five sites participating in the evaluation referenced in the CrimeSolutions.gov profile. Most programs shy away from incentivizing youth in this way, but the developers of Quantum believe that providing modest funds can be insrtrumental in facilitating the participation of the older youth they serve in mentoring activities and other program-sponsored events and activities. The funds are also used in the financial management life skills course provided by the program. For programs serving older adolescents, creative incentives like this may be a meaningful way to boost program engagement whole also teaching some financial planning and money management skills.
So did the stipend boost participation? It’s tough to say as the evaluation didn’t specifically address the connection between the stipend and youth motivations. But it did track the hours of participation against the aforementioned “ideal.” The program as designed calls for youth to participate in a total of 410 hours of activities a year, with 180 being spent in mentoring and tutoring activities. In this evaluation, the average student spent 291 hours a year in the program, with 135 hours of mentoring and tutoring. So the youth essentially got about 80% of the mentoring they were supposed to.
But interestingly, if the tutoring and mentoring received was split evenly, that works out to about 67 hours of mentoring a year, which is an hour-and-a quarter a weekright in line with the standard “dosage” of mentoring found in most mentoring programs. So it seems that even though there was an emphasis on “deep” mentoring, that depth was probably a result of the length of match and the value of the activities, not the intensity or frequency of the mentoring meetings. They were at about an hour a week like most of the field.
A strong integration of leadership activities and community engagement
In addition to the mentoring, tutoring, and life skills work, Associates in the program also are required to achieve a personal and community-focused goal to work on during their participation in the program. The program provided leadership training and mentors supported students as they chose, developed, and executed their plans toward achieving their goals. These activities were anecodatlly observed to seemingly allow youth to see themselves as burgeoning role models for their community and to offer valuable opportunities to apply newly learned skills. Many of the personal goals Associates chose were directly related to the program’s overall goals around graduation and post-secondary planning.
Quantum Opportunities serves as a good example of thoughtful program replication and evaluation done with the needs of our field in mind
The Quantum Opportunities program was expanded to the five urban areas in the evaluation through funds provided by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. The Eisenhower Foundation clearly put a lot of thought into the communities where this program might be a good fit and the evaluation details the training and technical assistance provided to help with program implementation as these sites worked out the nuances of service delivery and modified small aspects of the model (such as the stipends) to meet local needs and circumstances. The result was cross-site results that looked remarkably similar, while also producing a wealth of information about how the program appeared to thrive best in each unique community. All of this information is documented thoroughly in the evaluation report referenced above. The report is a wonderful example of research done with the broader mentoring field in mind. It details the thinking behind the replication project, especially how this effort built on a much earlier iteration of the Quantum program, the ultimate results of which made clear substantial room for improvement in the program. It also explains the design, measures, and outcomes very clearly (it helps practitioners when a program and its evaluation focuses intently on three easy to grasp outcomes like this one does). And best of all, it includes a good amount of qualitative interviews where program staff talk about what they felt made the program work in their settings. This qualitative information is a treasure-trove for practitioners, full of all kinds of useful tips, such as the perception across sites that the program’s emphasis on graduation, not grade improvement, as the primary goal really helped youth feel more comfortable in the program. Apparently working slowly toward that long-term graduation goal, with long-term support, felt like a better starting point that emphasizing immediate academic improvements. That makes sense, yet it’s the type of subtle distinction in program design that probably would have gone completely unmentioned had this evaluation not included qualitative data. This information will not only help in future replications of this model, but will also help spread these practices to larger audiences in our field.
One can hope that future efforts funded by both private philanthropies and public agencies like OJJDP will include similarly detailed and useful information on program replication and implementation in their evaluation reports.
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 for Mentoring Programs" section of the National Mentoring Resource Center site.