At first, it seemed that mentoring could be another victim of the pandemic, with the developmental relationships that so many young people depended on for guidance and stability dissipating just when they were needed most. The COVID-19 crisis not only had the potential to disrupt learning, but it threatened the ability to develop, maintain, and develop support networks – the social capital that is essential for students to thrive.
Mentorship programs across the country responded quickly. With dedicated staff and volunteers and creative changes to virtual mentoring, the programs have worked hard to limit the gaps in relationships, supports and services that young people need more than ever as new challenges and trauma unfold. presented.
E-mentoring experts have long known the value of virtual connection. I could be, a leading national organization in this work, has provided online mentors for students aged 13 and over for 20 years. Immediately after the COVID-19 outbreak, iCouldBe and Mentor have joined forces to develop and launch the Virtual mentoring portal, an online entry point that allows mentor / mentee matches to continue their online relationships. Later, CricketTogether, an online mentoring platform for youth ages 12 and under, has partnered to expand the service.
The demand was intense: At one point during the pandemic, more than 400 mentorship programs across the country, serving nearly 100,000 youth, asked iCouldBe to move their in-person services to the platform.
While many mentorship programs have gone virtual to fill an emergency gap, they quickly realized the unique and long-term possibilities of virtual connections: technology could help match mentor / mentee pairs; online connections could span time zones and eliminate transportation problems for hard-to-reach youth; and the data generated could allow for detailed monitoring and evaluation of the scope and effectiveness of mentoring.
So far, the data shows that it works: in a national study, adult mentors were asked about the impact of the pandemic on their relationships with mentees. Almost half said virtual mentoring worked for them and their mentee, and about a third said the pandemic had a positive impact on their mentoring relationships, likely due to more frequent registrations and expansion. support to include challenges occurring outside. from school.
With the return of in-person learning, schools and organizations are largely retaining the virtual components of their mentoring programs for these same reasons. But it’s also essential that programs share valuable lessons about what works and why.
For example, Zoom fatigue appears to negatively affect student engagement in Fresno, Calif., Even as they continue to turn to social media platforms to stay in touch with their peers. If young people were to open up, they needed online spaces where they felt free to be themselves.
In response, Fresno Unified School District and iCouldBe have developed a program in which middle school students and seniors mentor middle school students. Peer mentoring became the key to developing early confidence and quickly identifying students who needed support the most, whether it was navigating the college application process, working in a classroom. difficult or to seek socio-emotional recordings. These peer relationships enabled deeper relationships and engagement: fifty mentees connected virtually with their peer mentors over 750 times during the 2020-2021 school year and completed nearly 500 iCouldBe program activities.
At the onset of the pandemic, the School to Work program of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Palm Beach and Martin Counties shifted from in-person to fully virtual services. As a result, the students had mentors from across the country in various professional fields not necessarily available in their cities. People living in rural areas without transportation could come in contact with experts in various fields who could provide support for career exploration, financial literacy, employability and other life skills. And with new glimpses into the lives of their mentees, virtual mentors have found themselves addressing more of the children’s holistic needs that have affected their development and educational endeavors.
In South Florida and across the country, virtual mentoring along with schools has broadened a key concept for helping students succeed: Relationships are an integral part of the student success puzzle. To support students through difficult times and help them succeed, relationships with adult mentors must be monitored and measured as rigorously as academic performance.
Virtual mentoring platforms provide real-time data: on the participation of mentees and mentors; the relationship between mentees and mentors (an indicator of qualitative conversations about relationship building); and the average number of days between communications (an indicator of responsiveness). This information helps staff, teachers, and administrators easily identify where to intervene, as well as high-engagement relationships to celebrate.
Research on effective strategies for transitioning to online mentoring continues, even as the pandemic begins to wane. iCouldBe, Mentor and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health have joined forces to research what support systems need to be in place to take in-person mentoring programs to go virtual and to describe the impact of online mentoring programs on youth outcomes.
Researchers have already found that at the start of the pandemic, traditional mentoring programs had mixed results in quickly switching to some form of virtual support. Despite obstacles due to technological limitations, staff retention and buy-in, and access to facilities, mentoring programs have responded to these challenges with determination and creativity. These findings could help close the gap for one in three young people growing up without a mentor.
One lesson from the pandemic is that with virtual mentoring, physical distance doesn’t have to lead to social disconnection. In fact, it improves both accessibility and types of mentors, and increases the impact that a network of supportive relationships has on young people, especially in times of crisis.
Kate Schrauth is the Executive Director of iCouldBe, an early innovator in online mentoring that has matched over 24,000 students with mentors for discovery and career development. David Shapiro is CEO of Mentor, the unifying national champion for expanding quality mentoring relationships for youth.