Online mentoring program encourages students to stay in school (Part one)

Guidance counselors are tasked with helping guide students through the often confusing, frustrating paths of secondary education and help them determine a plan for what’s next – whether it be community college, traditional university, or an online college program.

Sadly, even with the No Child Left Behind program over the past decade, there’s been a significant drop in the number of public school guidance counselors. Nationally that means one guidance counselor to between 500 to 750 students!

In California, those numbers stretch to one to 1,5000 students, says Kate Schrauth, Executive Director of icouldbe.org, which offers an online e-mentoring program to middle and high school students, generally in low income and rural communities.

icouldbe.org was founded in 2000 by Adam Aberman, a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and teacher in New York City’s inner city school system. Aberman realized the amount of time high school students had to consider secondary education, where they’re going after high school and the careers they’re interested in was extremely limited.

It’s about 8 minutes per year, said Schrauth.

Aberman wanted to take advantage of the internet explosion taking place to address these important issues.

“Doing this over the internet,” Schrauth said, “people who don’t have a way to mentor or tutor can do it when they have the time.”

“Through the power of technology, we can connect all these people,” she said.

Since it’s founding, icouldbe has mentored over 20,000 students: kids in failing schools, on Native American reservations, orphans in East Africa and blind and/or vision impaired kids. They also partner with UNICEF to help bring students from Ethiopia, Uganda, Germany and the US together to communicate another about health and development issues.

icouldbe has developed a 30-unit curriculum – a series of guided activities kids and their mentors work on throughout the school year, themed around career exploration and college or any kind of healpost-secondary education preparation.

Students select their mentor based on their own interests and can have up to 3 mentors in fields they’re interested in pursuing.

The practical issues they address include:

  • how to research and pick colleges that are a good fit
  • should they attend vocational school?
  • should they enter the military and get an education?

Kids enrolled in icouldbe end up with a vetted list of 3 to 5 post secondary educational opportunities they can apply to that are a match for them.

Students learn the practical pieces that will lead them into successfully submitting the applications required. The educational website walks them through things like how to write that 1st resume, how to search the internet and how to go through interview process. They also work on scenarios like networking skills and approaching a teacher to ask for help or how they can do better.

It’s all those things adults take for granted, said Schrauth.

“We take the best from the mentoring world,” Schrauth said, “and combine it with the career preparation, college preparation, (and) some financial literacy work.”

Safety’s a big focus of these programs.

All mentors go through a triple background check: a national criminal check, a sex offender check, and an additional identity check. icouldbe.org has a filtering and monitoring system to ensure that no adult can find any child physically or virtually outside the program. Mentors go by their usernames. Should any cyberbullying occur, the filter captures it and the intended recipient never sees it. Then the teacher can use it in the classroom as a teaching tool on being appropriate, being respectful, and staying safe while online.

“We’ve never not passed through a security test with a school or a corporate partner (with) all those safety features in place,” said Schrauth.

Last year, icouldbe.org served about 1,200 students throughout California, where the majority of the students they work with are. All students attend the California Partnership Academy. Students can find a school within the Academy where all their courses are geared around their particular career theme.

Because the academies are required to provide every 11th grader with a mentor, they have been working with icouldbe.org for the past eight years.

They’re seeing tremendous results, Schrauth says.

In 2010, the Journal of Vocational Behavior published findings of the first research on online mentoring done by independent researchers from Drexel University. They were measuring around self-efficacy – the students ability to make good, positive life decisions.

They saw improvements from all the kids in the program across the country. Even the ones who at the beginning of the program who seemed hopeless came away with statistically significant improvements.

Because of the online mentor and the online support, the kids came away with attitudes of

“I can do it”, “I can make good decisions,” and “Yes I’m going to graduate from high school,” says Schrauth.

Every mentor who signs up to be with these kids for a year, that’s the impact they have, she said.

January is National Mentoring Month. To find out more on this remarkable e-mentoring program and how you can get involved, check out icouldbe.org.

To find out how you or your school can get involved, see Part 2.

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One Response

  1. I like this idea and will be sure to be looking into it to help solve a few problems I have now and will have in the future.

    Thanks

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