Pass or Fail: Mentoring To End Social Promotion and Retention
In this multi-part series, I provide a dissection of the phenomenon of retention and social promotion. Also, I describe the many different methods that would improve student instruction in classrooms and eliminate the need for retention and social promotion if combined effectively.
While reading this series, periodically ask yourself this question: Why are educators, parents and the American public complicit in a practice that does demonstrable harm to children and the competitive future of the country?
When parents aren’t able to bridge the gap at home when it comes to education, strong mentors can make a difference in how much students learn.
Emma came from a low-income background and struggled with family issues. She joined a mentoring program and was partnered with Sarah. They have now been friends for more than 12 years. Though the inequality inherent in mentoring has been mentioned by some as problematic, in many cases mentoring can be life-changing. In the case of Emma and Sarah, the relationship was mutually beneficial. They would often go to the local Barnes & Noble, where they would sit under a brightly painted artificial tree and read to each other for hours.
Though the relationship was certainly effective in boosting Emma’s reading skills, it had other benefits as well. At one point, when Emma was six years old, she had to call 911 after her mother’s former boyfriend broke into the house. Sarah helped Emma deal with the call and the repercussions. Later, Emma chose to leave her father’s home, where she’d lived for twelve years, and move to her mother’s home two hours away. Sarah helped her in that decision and supported her in the move.
Sarah and Emma also have a lot of fun together, eating out and visiting amusement parks. These fun times do not, however, keep Sarah, the Director of Admissions at Vermont Commons School, from maintaining a focus on Emma’s schoolwork. Emma says, “Yeah, Sarah is always asking me about school and my homework. She always tells me that doing well in school and working toward my future are the most important things. She motivates me to do my best in school.” And this focus has worked: Emma is on the honor roll and has started looking at colleges.
The benefits go both ways. Sarah says, “I don’t have kids of my own, so I have been able to be a sort of second mom to Emma in a lot of ways. And she is just so amazing and fun to be with; I can’t imagine my life without her. My parents instilled in me the importance of giving back. And although I have been on many organizations’ boards over the years, being a mentor to Emma is without question the best thing I have ever done in my life.”
As the story of Emma and Sarah indicates, mentoring can have an enormous impact on the lives of disadvantaged students and those who mentor them. Karcher identifies mentoring as a process based on concepts of attachment theory – how individuals relate to one another and what sense of connection they have based on their relationship. The related concepts also provide evidence to demonstrate the extent to which mentoring can help reengage adolescents who have detached or disengaged from the educational process. Although counseling and mentoring need not be limited to adolescent students, we can assume this is the group most at risk.
Encouraging mentoring on school campuses is one strategy for reengaging adolescent students who have become disconnected from school due to a variety of experiences. The use of mentors should be given considerable weight among the supports that can help preclude the need for retention or social promotion.
A collaborative team within the school context can also help identify students who are not performing at grade level. The collaboration of a variety of stakeholders concerned about the welfare of individual students can identify struggling students sooner and trigger remedial interventions that can prevent damage from compounding itself. Wells et al. found that counselors accurately identified those students on a school campus who were at risk, and were able to determine those who might benefit from interventions. They emphasized, however, that the mere identification of struggling students was of little use in the absence of an intervention plan.
Click here to read all my suggestions for alternatives to social promotion and retention.