Long-term mentoring for youth shows positive impact on aspirations, mental health

Fri, 07/09/2021 - 3:30pm

Three years in to its 6-year pilot program, the Aspirations Incubator has just released its Year 3 Interim Report. Funded by the Emanuel & Pauline A. Lerner Foundation, the $8M six-year pilot was conceived as a way to study whether Trekkers’ long-term youth mentoring model could impact young people’s aspirations in other communities.

According to the report, for young people growing up in rural Maine, life can be “isolating and a challenging place to make a living.” Rural youth are “more likely to feel lonely and disconnected and often lack the opportunities to help them see the career and life opportunities open to them through education and training beyond high school.”

These challenges could be further compounded, as the report says “more and more, jobs of the future will require education and training beyond high school.” Today, Maine youth rank below every other state in the Northeast for attainment of associate, bachelor’s, advanced and professional degrees.

Six organizations from across rural Maine are part of the pilot, including Chewonki, Apex Youth Connection, The Game Loft, The EdGE Program of Maine Seacoast Mission, University of Maine 4-H Center at Bryant Pond, and Old Town-Orono YMCA. Each site delivers programming for young people progressing from 7th through 12th grade, which the report says is critical years for identity formation.

“Many of the students have a much lower truancy rate at school this year. They said they want to be at school because of being in the program. I have seen them doing better academically, as they want to hold true to the academic pledge they created.” (Program Manager, 2020)

Sites receive training from the Trekkers Training Institute as well as ongoing coaching from Don Carpenter, former Executive Director of Trekkers and currently Lerner Foundation’s Senior Program Officer. The curriculum has included an introduction to Trekkers’ Youth Programming Principles, foundational youth development social-emotional theory, program design, and developing a community network.

Among other measures, the report says “more than 70% of students consistently reported experiencing positive growth on measures related to learning and school engagement” and that “70% reported positive growth on at least four measures of resiliency.” The report continued “among 8th graders, 99% said they would finish high school, 88% said they would pursue post-secondary education.”

This promising evidence comes at a time when the youth mental health crisis is in a spotlight, especially for rural youth. Bangor Daily News reports “ten out of 16 Maine counties, seven of which are nonmetropolitan, have areas with insufficient mental health care coverage.” But treatment is just part of the solution, says Dr. David Axelson, chief of the department of psychiatry and behavioral health for Nationwide Children’s Hospital in this US News & World Report. “Obviously emergency services and acute services are an important component, but it’s really the tip of the iceberg or tip of the pyramid. We really want to actually get at the issues way before we even need that kind of service and think about prevention in a broad-based way, both in education in schools and in the community.”

The Lerner Foundation expressed hope that other programs in Maine and around the country will consider adopting the model. The Trekkers Training Institute continues to offer workshops, training and consultations to outside organizations who want to learn more about how. To learn more or inquire, visit trekkersinstitute.org.