California Department of Education
Taking Center Stage – Act II

Adult mentors

Even though American adolescents begin to withdraw from adults and develop a heavier reliance on peers at this stage of their development, they still need adult friendship, guidance, and support. Adult mentors help students set academic and personal goals, appreciate their accomplishments, and deal with the stresses of changing relationships both at home and school.

Research on the results of long-term mentor relationships found that they provide youths with the support and guidance that allow them to grow into responsible adults.1

Effective middle schools employ many different strategies to pair each student with a mentor, adviser, advocate, or other adult for the duration of the middle grades. Schools can do this through a variety of strategies, including:

  • Advisory classes to help attach one teacher to a smaller number of students.
  • Looping to connect teachers to students on a continual basis year to year.
  • Small-group seminars with counselors on high-interest teen topics.
  • Making lunch dates with the administrators and staff members to connect small groups of students with a caring adult.
  • Special lunch dates to reward students for attendance improvement, high scores, or other achievements.

Community partnerships introduce more adults who can serve as mentors to the students.

In the Spotlight

Catherine L. Zane Middle School, Eureka City Unified School District
The Zane school community includes a variety of adults as mentors, including students from both Humboldt State University and College of the Redwoods who work one-on-one with students in classroom settings and the after-school program. Zane also has Americorp members whose main assignment is to mentor ten different at-risk students who need an adult friend.


Researcher Dr. Emmy Werner followed all 698 infants born on the Hawaiian island of Kauai in 1955. Her research spanned 30 years, making it one of the longest longitudinal studies of its kind. Werner found that many high-risk children displayed resilience and developed into normal, thriving adults despite numerous challenges and problems during their youth. The study identified a number of protective factors in the lives of these resilient individuals. One of the most important protective factors helping children to overcome adversity included experiencing a strong bond with a nonparent caretaker (such as an aunt, babysitter, or teacher).2

Related Links

Partnerships with the Community


1Works in Progress: A Report on Middle and High School Improvement Programs, (PDF; Outside Source), Washington, D. C.: Comprehensive School Reform Quality Center, January 2005, 29.
2E. E. Werner, Risk, Resilience, and Recovery: Perspectives from the Kauai Longitudinal Study, Development and Psychopathology (Fall 1993), 503-515.

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