Mass Mentoring Partnership (MMP) is fueling the movement to expand empowering youth-adult relationships to meet the needs of communities across Massachusetts. MMP serves hundreds of mentoring programs and youth development organizations statewide supporting thousands of youth in mentoring relationships.
There are many barriers that contribute to chronic absenteeism and dropping out of school, including inaccessible transportation, involvement in the juvenile justice system, and issues at home. However, a critically important factor that is often missing from this conversation is the disengagement of students who lack meaningful relationships with adults at school. Without these mentoring relationships, students often feel misunderstood and isolated. In the United States, only about half of the students who dropped out of school reported knowing a school staff person they could go to for support. For the past two years, we have collected survey data from high school students in Boston and other parts of the state supporting the importance of providing students with supportive relationships. This data is in keeping with what we know about the important role that adult mentors can play in the lives of young people.
A very clear conclusion in our research is that creating connections with adults in school and providing a sense of belonging for students is critical. This can sometimes be as simple as properly tracking attendance data and taking action before a student becomes chronically absent or truant. Many students say that a negative school climate can play a major role in disengagement from school. For example, negatively greeting students who are late for school can make them feel pushed out of the building, whereas asking to understand the reason for their tardiness will assure the student that he or she is being heard and can find support.
Creating connections is only one piece of the puzzle. The implementation in schools of developmental relationships focused on wraparound supports and not just academics can lead to interventions during the school year that encourage attendance. Consequently, building the supports to keep students in school positively impacts academic performance. These positive youth-adult and mentoring relationships help guide students as well as give them the tools to overcome obstacles both in and out of the classroom. It can also teach students to self-advocate and help them navigate challenges with the help of adults or by themselves.
At Mass Mentoring Partnership, we are supporting legislation in the Massachusetts legislature to place “graduation coaches” at middle schools and high schools across the state who have high dropout rates. These coaches would serve as a constant presence in the school building and provide wraparound supports for students. They would also work with school staff and parents to help students overcome obstacles and access social services that impact their ability to succeed in school. The presence of these types of supports is a proven youth development strategy that supports the effort to increase attendance and decrease chronic absenteeism that leads to too many students dropping out of school.
Better policy and practice are needed to ensure young people feel connected and engaged in school. It is critical that there are qualified adults in schools who can provide students social-emotional support. These adults will not only ensure students succeed in the classroom, but will provide mentoring support to help students overcome the obstacles they face every day just to get in the building. Without the support of these caring adults, too many at-risk students will be unable to reach their full potential.
To learn more about Mass Mentoring Partnership’s policy recommendations on dropout prevention and recovery and get access to resources to advocate for youth in your community, visit: massmentors.org/advocacy