The NYC Success Mentor Corps, launched in 2010, quickly became the largest, most comprehensive in‐school mentoring effort in the nation within a single city, reaching almost 10,000 chronically absent, or at‐risk‐of‐ becoming‐chronically‐absent, students.
There are three Success Mentor models, which shared core components but differed by the pool of mentors they were selected from:
- The external model staffed by non‐profit partners (e.g., City Year, social work students, retired professionals)
- The internal model staffed by school personnel (teachers, coaches, security officers, etc.)
- Peer models, staffed by 12th grade students
Success Mentors are assigned to students early in the school year, are required to work the full school year, and mentors from community based agencies must be at school a minimum of 3 days/15 hours per week.
Twenty percent of their time is focused on whole‐school attendance and culture efforts; the rest is spent working with their mentees. Success Mentors begin the day greeting their mentees and expressing enthusiasm to see them in school, or calling homes as soon as possible if the mentees are not in school, with a positive statement about how much they are missed.
They meet one‐on‐one and in groups, and are expected from week 1 to identify students’ strengths and celebrate them. They are also asked to identify the underlying causes of absenteeism, work with the student to solve those issues within their capacity (i.e., helping them find a more reliable bus route to school, convincing them of the importance of daily school attendance, helping them complete their schoolwork so they don’t avoid school when it’s not done), and where necessary work with the school partners to connect the student and family to local supports to address more significant underlying problems.
- Success Mentors, and their supporting infrastructure, were the most effective component of the task force’s effort across all school types. Previously chronically absent students who had mentors gained almost two additional weeks (9 days) of school per student, per year.
- In the 25% of schools with the greatest impacts, chronically absent students supported by Success Mentors gained, on average, more than a month of school.
- Previously chronically absent students in 2012‐13 with Success Mentors gained 51,562 additional days of school compared to previously chronically absent students without mentors at comparison schools; and 92,277 additional days compared to comparison school students without mentors during the three‐year initiative.
- Previously chronically absent high school students with Success Mentors were 52% more likely to remain in school the following year than equivalent comparison students who did not receive mentors, suggesting that this is a useful dropout prevention strategy.
- Students who stop being chronically absent see academic improvements — an open question until now: Students who exited chronic absenteeism in 2009‐2010 were 20 percentage points more likely to remain in school three years later (80%) than students who became chronically absent that year (60%).
An earlier study found that the age or source of the mentors didn’t matter as much as other factors:
- Mentors had access to attendance data for the students
- Mentors had a consistent, year-long relationship with students
- Mentors had a connection to the principal and school leadership
- Mentors and the schools celebrated attendance gains.
Other organizations working with the Task Force include: Citizens Schools, BuildOn, Partnership with Children, Counseling in Schools, Learning Leaders, Good Shepherd Services, The Leadership Program and SCAN. Graduate students come from the Hunter School of Social Work and Columbia School of Social Work, and undergraduates from Wagner College in Staten Island.
When organizations provide the mentors from within their ranks they are required to conduct an extensive screening and interview process with the mentors, since they will be working with children. On top of that, New York City handles fingerprinting and background checks. The mentors receive training and sign confidentiality agreements before working with the students. The mentors are expected to work a minimum of 15 hours a week and to attend the school’s weekly attendance team meetings to discuss students who need more support.
While the organizations supervise the mentors’ work and often provide minimal compensation, the school principal plays a critical role in providing leadership for the project. The principal must convey the importance of attendance and make it a priority schoolwide to help the mentors accomplish what is often difficult work. Family engagement is also a critical piece, and some mentors build relationships with family members.