The benefits of mentoring for young people are significant and well-established – youth development research shows that quality mentoring relationships with a caring adult have powerful positive effects on young people’s educational, personal, and professional situations, especially for young people who face an opportunity gap. For nearly 30 years, Summer Search has provided 1:1 mentoring with trained staff mentors to high school and college students from underserved communities. While our student outcomes have supported the effectiveness of 1:1 mentoring, our students said they wanted more opportunities to build community with each other.
Leveraging available research on group mentoring, we added peer group mentoring to our 1:1 mentoring program through a four year pilot. Peer group mentoring is defined by the National Mentoring Resource Center as a mentoring activity with one or more mentors and at least two mentees, and includes a group process with opportunities for meaningful, two-way interactions between the mentor and mentees or amongst the mentees. At Summer Search, the peer group mentoring sessions are facilitated by a trained staff member who also provides 1:1 mentoring to all group participants.
The results from our pilot are strong – so strong that we are shifting our high school program to include peer group mentoring. By 2022, all incoming students across Summer Search’s five regional sites will experience bi-weekly peer group sessions, in addition to 1:1 mentoring. In our view, peer group mentoring offers profound developmental benefits that cannot be achieved through 1:1 mentoring on its own.
Sharing hopes and concerns about school, identity, and the future with peers who are in similar situations helps normalize students’ feelings. Peers are uniquely able to relate to one another’s experiences and help each other process and problem-solve. The group setting allows students to alternate between seeking counsel and providing support, which builds their confidence and sense of efficacy.
Additionally, peer group mentoring can help young people understand the systems around them that contribute to their experiences. The students we partner with are predominately people of color, qualify for free and reduced lunch at school, and are often first in their family to be college-bound. Having a space to discuss these challenges builds awareness of the impact of systemic inequities and empowers young people to identify the ways in which they want to navigate and dismantle these systems.
Finally, and perhaps most important, peer group mentoring provides a team of support and helps participants recognize that they are not alone. They have a trusted group of people who they can count on to listen and help them grow, and our trained facilitators helped them learn how to engage with this team. The resulting sense of security and belonging allow young people to thrive.
Given what we’ve learned from our pilot program, we are excited to incorporate peer group mentoring into the rest of the Summer Search programming. This shift also reinforces our commitment to both seek feedback from Summer Search students and involve them in key organizational decisions. Their feedback was the genesis of this change, which will ultimately improve the quality of our program.
We’re proud to partner with the young people we serve and encourage everyone working in similar organizations to prioritize youth voice and leadership. We welcome the opportunity to share our learnings, and to help create more spaces for young people to support one another through peer group mentoring.