The United Way has long been committed to both improving education and mobilizing the power of communities. In that vein, they recently released several reports on public feelings about education, and one specifically focuses on the role of volunteer mentors in boosting students’ academic achievement.
In conjunction with publishing these findings on mentorship, the United Way is issuing a national call to action. They are seeking to recruit one million volunteers to act as readers, tutors, and mentors for students over the next three years. So far the United Way’s National Women’s Leadership Council, comprising 50,000 leaders in 120 communities, has pledged to recruit 100,000 volunteers.
Some of the goals of this effort outlined in the reports:
- Helping children develop academic competencies required for success in school, work, and life
- Providing positive adult role models for students
- Helping to cut school dropout rates in half by 2018
Volunteers are encouraged to look for opportunities within their communities via local schools and organizations that can match volunteers with students, and they are urged to provide long-term commitments since research shows these are the types of mentoring relationships that create positive results. Research indicates various benefits of community-based mentoring, for instance increased attendance among mentored students—in some cases students miss 50% fewer days—and a greatly reduced likelihood of initiating drug use—one study found a 46% decrease.
The report presents a summary of eleven characteristics of effective mentoring to more fully explain ways to make mentoring meaningful. Some highlights:
- The interests of students should drive mentoring interactions
- Mentor training can significantly improve sessions with students
- Mentoring relationships are improved when mentors maintain contact with their students during the summer as well
To find out more about this effort, to pledge to volunteer yourself, and to find tips on making your service as productive as possible, visit the Live United site. The LFA strongly supports community-member engagement in the education process, and we applaud the United Way for this initiative, and for their inclusion of data, analysis, and instruction to make the volunteering efforts successful rather than simply a nice idea.