PUBLISHED: 4:29 PM on Wednesday, August 8, 2007
Study shows school mentoring improves academic success
Big Brothers Big Sisters
A seminal study of the school-based mentoring program of Big Brothers Big Sisters, the largest youth mentoring organization in Alaska and the United States, shows that students with a "Big Brother" or "Big Sister" have better academic performance, attitudes, and behaviors over the course of a school year than students who did not have a Big Brother or Big Sister.

The recent study, "Making a Difference in Schools: The Big Brothers Big Sisters School-Based Mentoring Impact Study," was conducted by Public/Private Ventures, a nationally recognized research firm. It is the first large-scale evaluation of school-based mentoring. More than 1,100 children in 70 schools were followed for 18 months as part of the study.

Courtesy photo
  Big Sister Sonya Johnson and Little Sister Val meet each week during the school year at Hoonah Elementary School. They were matched November 2006 in the Big Brothers Big Sisters School-Based Mentoring Program in Hoonah.
The study also found that by late fall of the third semester most of the positive impacts from the first year were not sustained, largely because many of the relationships did not continue into the second year. However, two positive impacts were found at this point: students with a "Big" were less likely to begin skipping school and had higher expectations that they would start and complete college.

Big Brothers Big Sisters' friendship-based SBM program, one of the largest in the country with 126,000 volunteers in schools, matches and supports students with volunteer Big Brothers or Big Sisters at their schools during or after the school day.

In Southeast Alaska, BBBS served 270 students in its School Program this past school year in Juneau, Ketchikan, Haines, Hoonah, Skagway, Sitka, and Yakutat.

The P/PV study reports positive outcomes in the first year of participation in overall academic performance, as well as in the specific subjects of science and written and oral language. In addition, the study found that the quality of class work improved and the number of assignments turned in increased, while serious school infractions, including visits to the principal's office, fighting and suspensions had decreased.

Students with Big Brothers or Big Sisters also had fewer school infractions and skipped school less often than those in the study group without a "Big."

The mentored children also reported feeling more competent academically.

The study also found that most academic improvements recorded in the first year were not sustained into the third semester. This occurred in part because only 52 percent of all students matched with a "Big" in the previous two semesters continued to receive mentoring. Many had transferred to different schools because they "graduated" to middle school or high school and matches did not carry over to the new schools.

The P/PV report says that " ... the Big Brothers Big Sisters SBM program model is a promising intervention that merits support. The positive impacts on school-related outcomes at the end of the first school year, combined with the fact that the program is reaching many needy students, make this intervention particularly valuable for schools." The study also issued a caution that one full academic year of the BBBS School-Based Mentoring program is not enough to permanently improve academic performance.

Lori Klein, Director of Programs for Brothers Big Sisters in Southeast Alaska, said the organization is addressing study findings.

"Positive short-term results are a starting point, but we expect lasting benefits for the youth we serve." To that end, Big Brothers Big Sisters is making a host of changes to strengthen its School Program. These changes include increasing the length of the mentor-student relationship, supporting summer activities to create continuity between the mentor and student and strengthening volunteer training and professional support. "We are committed to making a very good program even better for Southeast Alaska's school children," said Klein.

Fred Davie, President, P/PV, said, "We are pleased to have the opportunity to work with foundations and exemplary programs like Big Brothers Big Sisters to conduct these kinds of rigorous random-assignment evaluations. Big Brothers Big Sisters and the foundations are setting the standard for how these studies are best used, learning from what works and taking seriously areas in need of improvement. Rigorous review, positive trends and course corrections are borne of a commitment to serve vulnerable young people more effectively. We applaud BBBSA and the supporting foundations for their dedication and action."

Big Brothers Big Sisters is the oldest, largest, and most effective youth mentoring organization in the nation and in Southeast Alaska.

In 2006, the organization served more than 1,700 youth across Alaska in all of its programs and more than 600 youth across Southeast Alaska.

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