The following article was originally published by Newswise on Mar. 2, 2021.

Months after the pandemic hit, Jarik started meeting with a mentor from the Middlebury College  men’s hockey team. The timing was right for the middle school student from Moriah Central School in rural Port Henry, NY, who, like many students across the country, needed support and inspiration to keep their college and career aspirations on track. 

“It’s really interesting to talk to people already in college because it helps me understand what it will be like when I go,” says Jarik, adding that he thinks of his mentor as a guide to his own future. “He really looks forward to it,” says CFES Fellow Margaret Pulte. “It provides an opportunity for him to meet people outside of his own community. It has been an important connection, especially during such a challenging time.” 

The need for mentors has never been greater. Students across the country are struggling with feelings of isolation, lethargy, and poor academic performance. Low-income students in urban and rural areas are struggling most, choosing to complete financial aid forms 16 percent less than last year, resulting in 30 percent fewer choosing to attend college.

To address this epidemic, CFES launched a nationwide mentoring program connecting students with mentors from colleges, corporations, K-12 schools and local communities. The innovative mentoring models that have emerged were the focus of the virtual “Mentoring Summit: Engage the New Age” on February 24. 

Seven educators shared inspirational and practical strategies that have allowed them to help students keep their dreams alive. 

“Today, mentoring looks different than it did just a year ago,” said Missy Wilkins, director of the CFES mentoring program. “What has remained the same is the profound impact it has on students’ lives. Whether virtually or in person, students who are mentored are more engaged in their learning, earn higher grades, have better school attendance and have a greater sense of well-being and worth to their school community. Mentoring connections matter now more than ever.”

The models presented at the summit were tailored to the needs of the schools ranging from inner city New York to Hawaii to the North Country. In rural schools where mentors can be harder to find, Michael Francia, principal at Keeseville Elementary, and Heather Wilcox, acting principal at Gilbertsville-Mount Upton (GMU) Central School, created peer mentoring programs to ensure consistent meetings.  

The newly expanded program at GMU, a partnership between the school and CFES, has Pre-K through 5th graders meeting weekly with mentors in grades 6 through 12. The students learn social and life skills through a series of activities, including a pen pal program with writing prompts and holiday cards. “It’s really about relationships,” says Wilcox. “It’s changing lives.”

 Chris Mazella, CFES Program Director & STEM Coordinator, shared a model developed by Beekmantown CFES Fellow Brett McClelland that features college athletes from Plattsburgh State, SUNY-Potsdam and Middlebury College. It has turned into a major mentoring program for middle school students at Beekmantown, Moriah, Crown Point, Franklin Academy and other schools. “It’s a two-way street,” says McClelland. “The college athletes find it just as rewarding as the students.”

“I feel that being able to talk with someone you aspire to be like is very beneficial,” said Beekmantown seventh-grader Shamus Bibeau in a recent article on CFES in the Plattsburgh Press Republican. “I believe that it can help you accomplish your goals. I think that we learn from people that we want to be like in the future in such an independent way.”

In Moriah, Pulte started a mailbox mentoring program that has mentors send packages to mentees twice a month based on two themes. The first includes STEM-related projects like coding kits and other science-related games, while the second – Connection Packages – are more personal with notes, arts and crafts, and videos.    

“We’ve shifted toward using the STEM and Connection kits to help students grow in their personal lives by including life skills activities and a focus on careers in STEM,” said Pulte.  

Other mentoring programs shared at the summit included a partnership between Lehigh University students and the Northern Lehigh School District; a panel-style mentoring program featuring alums from Wadleigh Secondary School in New York City and current students; and a partnership between Blanche Pope Elementary in Hawaii and employees at CFES corporate partner TransPerfect program called Collaborative Conversations focused on Essential Skills and college and career readiness. 

 The summit also involved a question and answer segment and breakout sessions for participants interested in launching mentoring programs at their own schools. “CFES continues to expand its e-mentoring programs to fit the needs of schools across the country facing challenges stemming from COVID-19,” said CFES President and CEO Rick Dalton. “It’s inspiring to see the impact e-mentoring has had and will continue to have long after the pandemic ends.”