“They’ve given up hope in learning,” Mrs. Jackson told us, describing the 10-year-olds in her Jacksonville, North Carolina class. Many of her students were second language learners, some were homeless, and all were economically disadvantaged. She was seeking a solution that would both educate and motivate her students to see beyond their current world and discover their potential. She lacked role models and adult volunteers willing to come help in her local community. Mrs. Jackson knew that doing this on her own was nearly an impossible task. Then she discovered eMentoring, offered on the CricketTogether platform, free to schools, which connected her with a classful of eMentors from a business located thousands of miles away. Through eMentoring, Mrs. Jackson was able to give every student their own adult eMentor.
All 28 students were matched with volunteer adults, each of whom committed to correspond with their mentee about articles the children selected to read, becoming a consistent presence in the children’s lives throughout the academic year. These virtual mentors sent e-letters and watched as the students hesitantly wrote back with a few sentences. But, just weeks later, these students were eager to read and write to communicate with their eMentors about the articles and their lives. Mrs. Jackson told us, “I have kids who didn’t want to do anything, but they want to do this. It’s an opportunity to write and share themselves without judgment. They talk about their eMentors as their best friends that they’ve known for years. These are kids who normally shut down with learning, but they are asking to write their eMentors.”
Because interactions are conducted digitally and asynchronously, eMentoring eliminates many of the challenges that make traditional mentoring inefficient. It’s a convenient and effective way to exchange valuable knowledge, skills, support, and experiences with students despite distance or time barriers. In January 2020, mentoring.org released a Supplement on eMentoring to the Elements of Effective Practice for Mentoring, both acknowledging and promoting the benefits of digital mentoring. Through programs like CricketTogether—and its related STEM solution, TryEngineering Together—at-risk students in elementary grades now have access to a variety of mentors and role models previously inaccessible to them. Research shows that only one in three students typically have access to an eMentor and that eMentoring can help students build their self-efficacy and belief that they can manage or overcome their circumstances.
eMentoring can help students build their self-efficacy and belief that they can manage or overcome their circumstances.
How eMentoring Works
Elementary eMentoring programs, CricketTogether and TryEngineering Together, target grades 3–8 at schools in low-income neighborhoods, as this is a critical time for the development of basic academic skills, as well as children’s self-concept and ideas about which careers are appealing and accessible to them. Each program provides a complete, guided experience for teachers, mentors, and sponsoring companies.
- Teachers are supported with a high-quality curriculum and hands-on activities, along with screened and trained eMentors that are difficult for most teachers to arrange on their own. The programs are flexible enough to work with a wide range of teaching styles, student reading and writing capabilities, and classroom schedules. As the platform is secure and teachers moderate and approve all correspondences, the programs are safe for teachers, students, and eMentors, alike.
- eMentors and students have access through their dashboards to writing guides that help them compose engaging letters that reflect on the articles they’ve read and respond to one another’s questions. eMentors can participate from anywhere at any time, and are presented with pleasant reminder notifications sent to their phone or email when tasks are due, eliminating the need to continually access the platform to stay up to date.
- Sponsors are provided with a highly sustainable, turnkey system which supports volunteer recruitment, program administration, and impact analysis. The online nature of the program facilitates large numbers of student-eMentor pairs, making it easy for the program to be offered to the entire organization.
While these eMentoring programs undoubtedly impacts the schools, with engaged learners finding new motivation to read and write, and grateful teachers feeling the power of community support sometimes from a world away, corporations report growth in employee engagement and satisfied volunteers delighted with the impact they witness through their students’ correspondence and with the ease of participation.
“Employees sharing their individual STEM experiences and career paths could have a tremendous impact on students who may not have exposure to STEM professionals and personal guidance,” said Stephanie Fitzsimmons, K–12 STEM education programs manager, Northrop Grumman. “A key advantage of the TryEngineering Together program is its convenience for employees to effectively provide valuable advice, lessons, and feedback to students, regardless of where either are located.”
“I love the idea of the powerful connection that will develop between the students and our Follett mentors as they form a virtual learning friendship,” said Follett President and CEO Pat Connolly.
In addition to anecdotal feedback, the programs have hard stats to show the impact. After the 2018-19 academic year, 100 percent of participating teachers observed notable improvements in students’ communication skills as a direct result of the program. And, when students were asked to self-report on their own strength in reading and writing after participation, 91.9 percent of students reported themselves to be good or very good at reading and 81.2 percent reported themselves to be good or very good at writing. For the STEM version of the eMentoring program, after one year of participation, 91 percent of Title I 3rd–5th grade students with little to no previous exposure to engineering said they liked or really liked learning engineering (Title I schools are those where at least 40 percent of students come from low-income families). Meanwhile, 71 percent rated themselves as highly confident in their ability to learn engineering and over 50 percent self-reported that they’d like to pursue a STEM career.
How you can help to expand both reach and impact
As one could guess, the program has a long list of teachers eager to bring eMentoring to their classrooms. What’s needed now to expand the reach and impact is the underwriting of costs from additional corporations and foundations.
Ask yourself if you could spare 15 minutes a week to write to a student who needs a role model or perhaps if your corporation or organization could gather a group of employees to cover multiple classrooms of students. The need is growing and the eMentoring solution is promising. Find out more about how to get involved here.