Group Mentoring: Benefitting Students and Mentors Alike

The student-mentor relationship is the heart of the Summer Search experience.

In our traditional one-on-one mentoring model, high school students talk with their individual mentor by phone about once per week, beginning in their sophomore year and continuing through college matriculation. During these calls, students and mentors build a foundation of trust and support that helps students achieve their dreams of becoming college graduates and socially-responsible leaders.

However, this journey looks a little different for one group of about 60 Summer Searchers. These students are participating in our Group Mentoring Pilot (GMP), a program launched in January 2014 to test if we can effectively and efficiently support greater numbers of students using a hybrid mentoring model that includes group mentoring, as compared to our standard one-on-one model.

chs-gmp-1Group Mentoring students from the Class of 2017 at Chelsea High School in Chelsea, MA.

The GMP runs out of the Summer Search Bay Area and Boston program sites. Group mentoring students are from Chelsea High School and Malden High School in the greater Boston area and Oakland High School and Envision Academy in the Bay Area. Twice per month, the students meet in groups with their mentor and 10 to 12 of their peers. They also check-in with their mentors by phone (like in our traditional model), but less frequently, on an every-other-week basis.

During the hour-long group sessions, students engage in a research-based curriculum that is specifically designed for adolescents, and helps them make progress toward Summer Search’s intended program outcomes—like improved academic mindsets and expanded networks of resources and relationships—as well as prepare them for their summer experiences and college. For instance, the spring sessions for juniors focus on trip readiness and developing a college-going identity, while spring sessions for seniors focus on their transition to college.

Students Support Each Other

The GMP curriculum intentionally promotes strong peer relationships amongst group participants. Through these sessions, students get to know each other more closely—their learning styles, their fears and challenges, as well as their successes and dreams for the future. According to these Summer Searchers, the sessions also have helped shape and strengthen their identities as college-bound students!

During one session this past fall, students from Chelsea High School worked as a team to write down a description of their group identity, illustrating their support for each other:

We believe: we are all going to college and hard work pays off.
We always: support each other, lift each other up, share our experiences.
We never: are disrespectful, push people to share if they don’t want to.

In addition to the shared group identity cultivated during sessions, individual students have noticed the influence their peers in the group have on their belief in themselves.

“I love those guys!” exclaimed Oakland High School senior Dee when asked about how the group has influenced her college-going beliefs. “It seems like they (the other students in the group) had it all figured out and I was not as clear. Their encouragement really helped me keep going when I had a lot of doubt.”

dee-gmp-summer-tripDee on her first summer trip to Yosemite in California in 2015.

Despite her doubt and reservations, Dee has already been accepted to three colleges, including her top choice of CSU Humboldt!

Chelsea High School senior, Deysany, agrees that the group has had a strong influence on her desire to go to college. Here’s what she recently told her mentor Claire:

“The group is why I am applying to college… Like I told you last year, Claire, I was not going to apply to college… Then you see other people you know (in the group) applying for college, and you want to be on their level.”

deysany-outward-bound-2015Deysany, Chelsea High School Senior, on her first Summer Search experience with Outward Bound in North Carolina in 2015.

Mentors Also Benefit

Summer Search students aren’t the only ones benefitting from the group mentoring sessions. Our mentors find the group sessions valuable, too.

“Working in the group allows me to understand the school culture in a much deeper way than I could if I was not present in the school,” says GMP mentor Claire Marian. “It also allows me to see how students show up and interact with one another and adds that much more depth to our mentoring relationships.”

Bay Area GMP mentor Alysa Delgado sees the value of group mentoring as anchored in the network of support students build for each other and the increased in-person time she gets to spend with students in their school and community. To Alysa, one key to group mentoring success is the strength of the school and Summer Search partnership.

“This pilot is successful because of the support and commitment from our partner schools Oakland High School and Envision Academy,” said Alysa. “I feel truly welcomed and included in the school community. And because of this, I feel like Summer Search is a part of the school community.”

gmp_mentors-2016GMP mentors Claire Marian (left) and Alysa Delgado (right), with Alex Bartz, Summer Search’s National Innovation Manager (middle).

The pilot is in its second of four years, and findings from a mid-point formative evaluation reinforce the students’ observations (like Dee and Deysany mentioned earlier) about their experience in the group.

The evaluation shows that students are building close relationships with each other and their mentors. Students reported continuously high levels of group cohesion across both sites and that various indicators of positive group dynamics grew as students got to know one another. Also, students exceeded most interim targets for program participation and attendance rates remain high across multiple years.

These positive early indicators suggest that integrating this hybrid mentoring model into Summer Search’s core program could be a plausible way to allow us to support more students on their journeys to and through college.

While there is much more left to learn and the jury is still out, we do know one thing for sure about our Group Mentoring Pilot, both students and mentors alike are enjoying the sessions and benefitting from them!

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