Transitions between grades or from middle school to high school can be challenging for certain students. Academic struggles, economic disadvantages, and social development are hurdles that some students must learn to overcome, particularly if they are the first in their family to be college-bound. For these students, staying on track can be difficult. Many times, a peer mentor through a peer mentoring program can help them to process these obstacles.
What is Peer Mentoring?
Peer mentoring, often called peer-to-peer mentoring, is a mentoring relationship between two individuals who are similar in age and/or background. This type of relationship is especially useful for academic transitions such as moving from middle school to high school.
For students in a TRIO program, peer mentoring can provide a perspective that adult-to-student mentorships cannot. When “been there, done that” peers step in to mentor a student from a similar background, they bring the wisdom of their recent experience to the equation. They understand a mentee’s background and challenges in a way that enables them to have healthy, honest conversations about the challenges they face.
Benefits of a Peer Mentoring Program
Peer mentoring is unique in that it produces the same benefits as a traditional mentoring relationship while also empowering young people. Peers are able to relate to the experiences shared by those in the program, enabling them to help each other to problem-solve. These relationships can result in:
- Improved communication skills
- Improved problem-solving skills
- Greater connection to program
- Increased confidence
- Increased self-esteem
- Improved leadership skills
Additionally, peers can provide a particular network of contacts that traditional mentors cannot. As students grow and mature, having solid mentoring relationships with their peers can help them to accomplish more.
Creating a Peer Mentoring Program
Students in a TRIO program can benefit immensely from being mentored, particularly if those mentors are drawn from a pool of their peers. Developing a peer mentoring program within your TRIO program can not only help the mentees, it can also help build leadership skills in the peer mentors. Consider these tips:
Develop Program Rules
Just as traditional adult-to-student mentoring relationships follow certain guidelines, peer mentoring can benefit from program rules. What these rules will look like will depend on the structure of your TRIO program. In general, look to establish guidelines around the amount of time spent, meeting locations, appropriate activities, and mutual respect. It’s a good idea to incorporate mentor training into your program before you match mentors with mentees.
Identify Potential Mentors
Students who are program regulars or have moved up in grade are potential mentor material. Examine the personalities and backgrounds of your mentor candidates. Some will likely be natural leaders, while others may have overcome significant obstacles. Others may be working toward goals but not quite successful… yet. TRIO programs are often filled with students who are at different points in the same journey. Select the ones who have made the most progress toward their goals.
Identify Potential Mentees
A natural place to begin is by surveying newcomers to your program. However, don’t overlook individuals who are already part of your program. Some may already have formed a connection with other students in the program – these may be a natural fit for a mentoring relationship. Having someone with similar life experiences, challenges, and goals can make the relationship easier to cultivate.
Encourage Program Buy-In
A mentoring relationship between peers can feel superficial if both parties are not invested in the process. For students, sharing this kind of connection can seem awkward, particularly if they have no experience with adult mentors. You may need to host structured activities for mentors and mentees to connect in order to encourage buy-in from both parties. Assure them that they can turn to program administrators for assistance any time they feel unsure about the next steps in their relationship.
Prepare for Progress
As students move through your TRIO program and the peer mentoring program within it, both mentors and mentees will benefit. Mentors will gain confidence and leadership skills. Mentees will grow in knowledge and ability. For some, there will be a natural conclusion to their relationship. For others, moving up a grade, moving into a new school, or graduating will spell the end of their time in your program. Have a plan in place to celebrate their accomplishments and help them transition into the next chapter of their lives.
Peer Mentoring as Part of Your TRIO Program
Developing a peer mentoring component within your TRIO program can benefit your students in many ways. Not only do they give and receive guidance based on personal experience, but they also develop skills that can benefit them over the long term. Peer mentors gain leadership experience that can enhance their resume for college admissions, scholarships, military service, or employment. Mentors and mentees alike develop empathy and learn how to advocate for themselves and others. For TRIO students, these attributes are part of creating the more rounded individuals that colleges and organizations seek.
TRiO Perks can help your program to monitor mentoring activities and keep tabs on peer-to-peer mentoring relationships. In fact, TRiO Perks allows you to better manage and monitor multiple aspects of your program. Gain a better understanding of student participation in program activities, award points for desired actions and behaviors, and encourage students to take full advantage of what your program offers. Establish a program store to enable students to spend their accumulated points on incentives such as perks, items, and events. With TRiO Perks you can help your students to build the skills they will need to be successful adults!
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