Sunday, January 20, 2013

Mentoring-A Guiding Hand in a Time of Need

‘We all get where we’re going with a push from someone else’
–Denzel Washington, actor, director, & philanthropist, A Hand to Guide Me

January is National Mentoring Month. The word MENTOR means: ‘a wise and trusted counselor or guide’.  Everyone has had a mentor at some time in their lives. Think about the life of President Barack Obama -the first African American to serve in the highest office in the land and what  his life would have been like without very special people who helped him at the most critical times of his experience. As we celebrate President Obama’s second term in office, this is a great time to think about how mentors help young people to fulfill their potential. Even a person as great and fulfilled as Dr. Martin Luther King, whose birthday we also celebrate this week, attributed his peaceful resistance strategy and other success in the civil rights movement to the guidance of great mentors- Mahatma Ghandhi, his family, and colleagues in the civil rights movement. 

Most of us can remember individuals who had a positive impact our lives. I remember the ‘guiding hands’ of my favorite elementary teachers, high school counselor, my family, and later, my mentors in graduate school: Dr. James M. Patton and Dr. Joyce VanTassel-Baska. It was Jim who deepened my commitment to working for Equity in Education for culturally diverse students and Joyce’s firm hand and wise counsel that led me to my passion for  Gifted Education.

Mentors for high ability & gifted children are just as critical as they are for all children, especially for those students who have missed out on early and sustained access to rigorous classroom experiences. Having high intellectual ability does not mean that a young person will not need guidance, encouragement, and assistance to help them fulfill their potential. No matter how bright a student may be, a good mentor can be critical to their future success- just when they may need it the most.

I invited Torie Weiston, Executive Director of the Youth Mentoring Action Network in Southern California to write about the importance of mentoring for this blog. Below is an excerpt from one of her articles, entitled: THE  POWER OF MENTORING .

I often think of what my life would be like if I didn’t have great mentors all along my journey….

‘The Power of Mentoring’
By Torie Weiston
We know that the potential of African-American youth is unlimited, and often untapped. However, in much of the literature and in educational conversation, we often hear more focus on the ‘achievement gap’ when referring to African American students, rather than their untapped potential. The achievement gap must be addressed in honest and thoughtful ways as we approach a new era in American education.  While many researchers have discussed strategies for closing the achievement gap over the years, very few have looked specifically at the power of mentoring for an answer.
Mentoring is a successful strategy for youth, in general (Allen, 2007; Keller, 2010; Rhodes, 2002; 2010), but few have related mentoring to the academic achievement gap.  Some studies have demonstrated that mentoring has  a positive correlation to academic achievement (Jekielek, Moore, Hair, & Scarupa, 2002).
Research on mentoring highlights several positive effects:
Ø  First, mentoring has been documented to help increase the academic progress of youth, including an increase in grade point averages, in school attendance, and in college acceptance and attendance.
Ø  Second, mentoring is helpful to youth regardless of the race of the mentor. Cross-race matches are as valuable as other mentoring matches, and
Ø  Third, mentoring has an immense effect on the resiliency of youth. Resiliency has been identified as a key factor for the success of African American youth.

The Youth Mentoring Action Network, a grassroots non-profit in Southern California, has established a school and community based mentoring programming, based on a synthesis of research and evidence-based practices. Working with African-American high school students from various backgrounds the Youth Mentoring Action Network has become a change agent. Through direct work with mentors and specifically designed programming, last year the organization celebrated a 95% college acceptance rate among its graduating seniors.
Providing long-term guidance from mentors, academic support, establishing a college- going culture, and teaching vital “real-world” skills are the basis for the Youth Mentoring Action Network. We believe that these strategies over time will be instrumental in closing the achievement gap.  We highly recommend the development of mentoring programs in every neighborhood, every school and every community across the nation. To find out more about the Youth Mentoring Action Network please visit us at:

Will you lend a hand and devote some time to a budding scientist, journalist, educator, politician, artist today?  Somewhere a student is waiting for a ‘nudge’ or a ‘hand to guide’ them closer to accomplishing their dreams.  Just think about it! Your encouragement could be the difference between a dream realized  or a dream deferred. Become a Mentor Today!!


Allen, T. D., & Eby, L. T. (Eds.). (2007). The Blackwell handbook of mentoring: a multiple perspective approach. Malden, MA: Blackweel Publishing Ltd.
Jekielek, S. M., Moore, K. A., Hair, E. C., & Scarupa, H. J. (2002). Mentoring: a promising strategy for youth development: Child Trends Research Brief.
Keller, T. E. (2010). Youth mentoring: Theoretical and methodological issues. In T. D. E. Allen, L.T. (Ed.), The Blackweel Handbook of Mentoring: A Multiple Perspectives Approach (pp. 23-47): Blackwell Publishing.
Rhodes, J. E. (2002). Stand by me: the risks and rewards of mentoring today's youth. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Rhodes, J. E., & Spencer, R. (2010). Structuring mentoring relationships for competence, character, and purpose. New directions for youth development, 2010(126), 149-152. doi: 10.1002/yd.356

Other highly recommended readings

Edelman, M.W.(1999) Lanterns: A memoir of Mentors. Boston:Beacon Press

Washington, D. (2006). A Hand to Guide Me: Legends and Leaders Celebrate the People who Shaped their Lives. Des Moines, IA: Meredith Books