A key protective factor enabling young people to make a successful transition into adulthood has been identified as a relationship with a caring adult outside the young person’s immediate family. In a study on resilience, Emily Werner and a team of professionals followed the development of children born in 1955 on the island of Kauai, Hawaii, from pre-birth through to adulthood. Werner subsequently contributed to five books written about this work over the years and has identified key protective factors that contributed to individuals’ successful transition into adulthood as being caring teachers, elder mentors and other caring adults outside the family.
Within the school context, mentoring can provide students with an important layer of scaffolding support. Schools can intentionally link students with ‘mentors’ – teachers, support staff or volunteers – for the primary purpose of the student having a positive relationship with a caring adult. The support of a caring ‘significant other’ can prevent a young person from becoming vulnerable and/or at risk. Further to this, mentors can add incredible value to a school through their individual time with students and their collective impact on the school community.
To facilitate the development of an enduring and constructive relationship, mentors and students need to meet regularly on an individual basis to engage in activities and build rapport. This relationship connection can increase the young person’s sense of wellbeing and increase their connection to school and community. With time being a limited resource for school staff, many schools utilise local volunteers for mentoring programs and this also provides a link between the school and the wider community.
Volunteer opportunities within schools can be a win-win situation for everyone involved. The school and students benefits from extra assistance at minimal cost and volunteers benefit from a sense of achievement and community connection. However, due to the overriding need for child safety, all volunteer programs require careful management. In terms of mentoring, the need for volunteers to be appropriately screened, trained and managed is vital and this challenge can be a barrier for schools wanting to offer mentoring through volunteers for their students.
While the necessary time commitment from staff to operate volunteer programs in schools can be prohibitive, the benefits of involving local volunteers as mentors for students cannot be underestimated. Many adults can look back on their childhood or adolescent years and recall an adult (or maybe more!) outside of their family who went out of their way to provide them with guidance, support and care. This support can shape a young person, help them to see opportunities in life and believe in their potential. This positive influence can help guide a young person to a more positive pathway than they otherwise may have taken and the positive influence of that relationship can stay with them for the rest of their lives.
To enable schools to manage their own mentoring program at minimal cost, Stride provides training to school staff and a complete set of mentoring resources, forms and guidelines for smooth operation of a mentoring program within a local school.
– Karen Holmes
For further information about Stride In-School Mentoring, please visit www.whitelion.asn.au/school-programs.
 Werner & Smith, 2001, Journeys from Childhood to Midlife.