Welcome back to our ongoing blog series focused on the six pillars we created in response to the dramatic changes to the K-16 landscape and the issues facing students, teachers and higher education in general. This week, we focus on the power of mentoring and its impact on student success both in and out of the classroom.

Provide mentors for students. Students who’ve never been exposed to college need role models and guides to help them envision themselves as college students and ultimately, college-educated professionals.

Mentors can be college students, business or community leaders, or even peers. For instance, every student at August Ahrens Elementary School in Waipahu, HI, is involved in a peer-mentoring program in which upper-grade classes serve as “buddies” to younger students and participate in activities such as Essential Skills development and career games throughout the year. (We will return to a detailed look at the Essential Skills, the fourth of the six CFES pillars, in the following section.) At Blanche Pope Elementary School, every 4th, 5th, and 6th grade class is assigned a mentor from the Honolulu-based office of TransPerfect. During the virtual monthly sessions, TransPerfect volunteer mentors engage students in conversations and activities connected to one of CFES’ educational tools, the College and Career Readiness Vision Map. By the end of the year, students complete their own maps with their mentors.

Particularly for struggling families, research shows that the expense of college is the primary reason young people fail to enroll, and the primary reason they drop out. The perception is that higher education is for the wealthy, not for them. Mentors can explain that there’s more money available today to pay for college than at any time in the last 50 years. And besides financial aid and scholarships, other strategies such as achieving dual credit in high school can lead to big tuition savings.

Peer Influencers
Students can also mentor each other by providing mutual support and holding each other accountable. For instance, Lasana, Nana, and Ana, three close friends from the South Bronx, first met as classmates and members of the CFES program at Eximius College Preparatory Academy and went on to attend and graduate from the University of Vermont. The three mentored each other and other peers in study groups. Lasana now works as an electrical engineer at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Nana at Goldman Sachs as a software engineer, and Ana as a medical social worker at Mount Sinai Hospital.

Mentoring Younger Peers
College students relate well with K-12 students and can demystify college in ways older adults can’t. Through a program called Mentor Madness, hundreds of college students, most from Middlebury College, the University of Vermont, and SUNY Potsdam mentor 3,000 K-12 students in 20 Northern New York and Vermont schools for a day in January. Besides exposing high school and college students to the mentoring experience, it creates buzz about mentoring. This motivates schools to become more committed to mentoring programs and inspires college students and community and business leaders to step up to become full-time mentors.

College and Career Readiness Advisors. Another recent finding confirmed by CFES research is the scarcity of college guidance for low-income youth. This has gotten worse since the pandemic, because mental health and other urgent needs have pushed postsecondary and workplace counseling to the back burner. In response, over the past three years, CFES has trained and certified 8,000 teachers, community members, college students, and parents/caregivers to become College and Career Readiness (CCR) Advisors.

Recently, CFES empowered 800 high school students to become CCR Advisors themselves, giving them an opportunity to develop their own leadership, networking, and goal-setting skills while helping other students do the same.

College and Career Readiness Advising in Florida
Maria’s trajectory is an example of the impact of CCR advising. Growing up near the citrus groves in Mulberry, Florida, Maria never thought she’d become the first in her family to attend college. That changed in 10th grade when her math teacher, Mr. Lambert, took Maria and three classmates to visit nearby Polk State College. “It opened up a new world for me,” Maria said.

But in 11th grade, the complexity of the college admissions process threatened to derail Maria’s dream. That’s when Mr. Lambert stepped in and showed her how to sign up for tests, fill out financial aid forms, and move through the admissions maze. “Mr. L. badgered me about deadlines and supported me at every turn. I never could have done this alone,” said Maria, who went on to graduate from the University of Central Florida.

A Culture of Giving Back. A critical component of supporting students from impoverished backgrounds is building a supportive peer culture. That’s why as part of their training in leadership, CFES Scholars teach what they learn to younger peers. By sharing their own experiences and knowledge, our young people take charge of their own futures while uplifting those who follow.

CFES Scholars are expected to serve others, improve their communities, participate in ongoing leadership development, and create plans to share the benefits of their accomplishments. CFES believes that all of us share an obligation to equip students to achieve educational and career success, especially those of us who have succeeded. More importantly, however, when low-income students see others in their communities succeed, they are able to envision themselves taking advantage of the same opportunities to work toward a college degree and a financially rewarding career.