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Program Profile: Brief Instrumental School-Based Mentoring Program

Evidence Rating: No Effects - One study No Effects - One study

Date: This profile was posted on January 15, 2015

Program Summary

A school-based intervention designed for at-risk middle school students that aims to improve academic performance, promote school connectedness, and life satisfaction and to decrease disciplinary actions. This program is rated as No Effects. The program did not significantly affect students’ English, reading, or science grades; measures of teacher or school connectedness; tardiness; or school absences. However, the program significantly increased students’ math grades and life satisfaction.

Program Description

Program Goals/Target Population
The goals of the Brief Instrumental School-Based Mentoring Program were to improve academic performance, promote school connectedness and life satisfaction, and decrease disciplinary actions. The intervention targeted at-risk middle school students in grades 6–7.

Program Components
The Brief Instrumental School-Based Mentoring Program was a one-on-one mentoring program. It consisted of eight 45-minute mentoring sessions that took place in a designated mentoring room during a student’s nonacademic elective once per week. The program was divided into three phases: rapport building and expectations (weeks 1–2), academic enabler training and goal setting (weeks 2–3), and performance feedback and problem solving (weeks 4–8).

During the rapport-building and expectations phase, the mentor engaged in activities and conversation intended to promote positive affective experiences, develop an initial connection between the protégé and mentor, and encourage the protégé to be an active participant in the mentoring relationship. During the second phase, the mentor used the protégé’s academic strengths and areas of concern to help the protégé set S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound) goals for the semester. Those goals were subsequently used to lead into academic enabler trainings (i.e., book-bag and locker organization, agenda keeping, homework planning, and study skills). In the last phase, the mentor provided performance feedback on the protégé’s progress toward goals in the first meeting and then helped the protégé problem- solve barriers to goals during the remaining meetings. The mentors learned and practiced the preceding activities by reviewing the program manual and by attending trainings.

Mentors, during or directly after each mentoring session, completed a checklist of the session’s procedures that included specific agenda items and tasks pertinent to the activities expected of the mentors during that session. A site supervisor reviewed the checklist with the mentor prior to the mentor meeting with his or her protégé and prior to the mentor leaving after the session.

Program Theory
The program was based on a brief mentoring model (Spencer and Rhodes 2005) with techniques adapted from Motivational Interviewing (MI; Miller and Rollnick 2002). Consonant with the MI approach, the program used a client-centered model that encouraged a flexible and reciprocal relationship between mentor and protégé while also accommodating goal-focused activities for the protégé, such as academic skills training. To help realize this aim, mentors used MI techniques such as “Ask, Don’t Tell”, “Avoid Argumentation”, and “Support Progress Towards Goals.” The first two of these tenets aimed to promote a strong working alliance and student-focused relationship wherein the mentor avoided arguing with or judging the protégé, and the mentor relied on the protégé’s explanations and reasons for change, rather than prescribing reasons for change. Additional techniques included compassionate empathic statements and open-ended questions to promote program-relevant conversation.

Key Personnel
The school’s volunteer coordinator conducted the matching process whereby each protégé was paired with a mentor. All training and supervision sessions were led by graduate students in clinical–community psychology or by advanced undergraduate psychology or education majors.

Additional Information
The program was a manualized modification of Strait, Smith, McQuillin, Terry, Swan, and Malone’s (2012) MI approach to mentoring. The original study by Strait and colleagues (2012) included a single session of MI and performance feedback delivered by trained graduate students in clinical and school psychology.

Evaluation Outcomes

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Study 1
McQuillin and colleagues (forthcoming) found that students in the treatment group who participated in the Brief Instrumental School-Based Mentoring Program had significantly lower numbers of discipline referrals, significantly higher math grades, and significantly higher levels of life satisfaction at the end of the semester, compared with the control group. However, there were no significant differences between the groups on any other outcome measures, including number of absences; number of tardies; grades in English, science, and reading; school connectedness; and teacher connectedness. Overall, the preponderance of evidence suggests the program did not have a significant impact on treatment group students.

Number of Absences
There was no statistically significant difference between treatment and control groups in their school absences at the end of semester (posttest).

Number of Tardies
There was no statistically significant difference between treatment and control groups in their tardiness at the end of semester.

Number of Discipline Referrals
Students in the treatment condition had a significantly lower number of discipline referrals at the end of the semester than students in the control condition. The average number of discipline referrals for a student in the control group was 1.46, whereas in the treatment group it was 0.88.

There was no significant difference in English, science, or reading grades between treatment and control groups at posttest. Students in the treatment condition did, however, have significantly higher math grades at the end of the semester than students in the control condition. Students in the treatment condition had math grades that were 2.61 points higher, on a 100-point scale, than those in the control condition.

Life Satisfaction
Students in the treatment condition reported significantly higher levels of life satisfaction at the end of semester than those in the control condition.

School Connectedness
There was no significant difference between treatment and control groups in their self-reported school connectedness at the end of semester. 

Teacher Connectedness
There was no significant difference between groups in their self-reported teacher connectedness at the end of semester.

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Evaluation Methodology

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Study 1
McQuillin and colleagues (forthcoming) evaluated the Brief Instrumental School-Based Mentoring Program, an 8-week, one-on-one mentoring program targeting at-risk middle school students. Study participants were students in grades 6–7, at a large urban middle school in the southeastern United States. Of 134 participants, 74 were randomly assigned to the mentoring program, and 60 were assigned to the wait-list control condition. The composition of the final sample was 53 percent male; 62 percent African American; 30 percent white; and 8 percent other race/ethnicity, or unknown. The average age of the students was 11.9 years. At baseline, there were no observed differences between the treatment and control groups on gender and ethnicity or on student-reported outcome measures (life satisfaction, grades, school connectedness, and teacher connectedness). The program was implemented during the second quarter of the school year.

Measures of school connectedness, teacher connectedness, and life satisfaction were obtained from student self-report surveys at baseline (prior to randomization) and one week before the end of the second quarter (postintervention). In addition, three outcome measures were gathered from school records: 1) grade point average, 2) number of office referrals for discipline problems, and 3) number of tardies and absences. Pretest grades were students’ first-quarter grades (issued in the fall), and posttest grades were students’ second-quarter grades (issued right after the winter holiday break). Behavioral data (office referrals for discipline problems, tardiness, and absences) were obtained from students’ school records during the first two quarters of the school year (i.e., the fall semester).

Multilevel modeling was used to test for the effects of the intervention on grades. Multiple-linear regression was used to examine the impact of the intervention on student-reported psychological outcomes (school connectedness, teacher connectedness, and life satisfaction). Control variables in the multilevel modeling and multiple-linear regression analyses included gender, race, and pretest scores on the outcome being predicted. Zero-inflated Poisson regression models were used to test for intervention impact on numbers of tardies, absences, and discipline referrals. For these outcomes, only gender and race were used as control variables.

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There is no cost information available for this program.
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Implementation Information

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Mentors were first-year, academically gifted undergraduate students who had high standardized test scores and interest in developing leadership skills. All were from the Capstone Scholars program of the University of South Carolina. Mentors participated in two 45-minute in-person training sessions, three 10-minute online booster-training sessions, and ongoing support meetings from supervisory staff. Specifically, the first training session provided information on program structure, expectations, and a review of the curriculum. The second training session was held at the mentoring site and included role-playing exercises with a supervisor of the activities involved in the first mentoring session, as well as an overview of resources (i.e., folders, notecards, and locations for mentoring sessions). An online booster-training program was provided every 2 weeks for the first 6 weeks of the program and covered such topics as setting goals, providing feedback to protégés on goal progress, and optional termination or continuation of the relationship toward the end of the semester.

Mentors maintained a weekly checklist during the semester that detailed the activities that were completed each session, listed the specific goal(s) discussed, and described any plans made for completing the goal(s). Site supervisors reviewed the checklist with the mentors after each session and provided support and problem solving. Supervisors recorded data on fidelity for the mentor’s delivery of each session as compliant or noncompliant. Researchers operationally defined a full dosage of the intervention as complete compliance for all eight sessions based on the checklists within the manual. At the end of the intervention, 91 percent of the mentors had delivered the full dosage of the intervention (McQuillin et al. forthcoming).

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Other Information (Including Subgroup Findings)

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This version of the Brief Instrumental School-Based Mentoring Program is no longer an active program. A revised version of this program is also included on The revised program, which includes enhancements to mentor training and supervision, as well as to the program curriculum, was significantly different from the previous version and thus reviewed as a new program. For more information, please see the profile for the Brief Instrumental School-Based Mentoring Program–Revised:
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Evidence-Base (Studies Reviewed)

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Study 1
McQuillin, Samuel, Gerald Strait, Bradley Smith, and Alexandra Ingram.  "Brief Instrumental School-Based Mentoring for First and Second Year Middle School Students: A Randomized Evaluation." Journal of Community Psychology (forthcoming).

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Additional References

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

McQuillin, Samuel. “Randomized Evaluation of an Instrumental School-Based Mentoring Program for First and Second Year Middle School Students.” PhD diss., University of South Carolina, 2012.

Miller, William, and Stephen Rollnick. 2002. Motivational Interviewing. 2nd ed. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Spencer, Renee, and Jean Rhodes. 2005. “A Counseling and Psychotherapy Perspective on Mentoring Relationships.” In D. L. DuBois and M. J. Karcher (eds.). Handbook of Youth Mentoring. Thousand Oaks, Calif: Sage.

Strait, Gerald Gill, Bradley Smith, Samuel McQuillin, John Terry, Suzanne Swan, and Patrick S. Malone. 2012. "Randomized Trial of Motivational Interviewing to Improve Students’ Academic Performance." Journal of Community Psychology 40(8):1032–39.

Terry, John. “Motivational Interviewing and School-based Mentoring to Improve Middle School Students’ Academic Performance.” PhD diss., University of South Carolina, 2013. (This study was reviewed but did not meet criteria for inclusion in the overall outcome ratings).
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Related Practices

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Following are practices that are related to this program:

This practice provides at-risk youth with positive and consistent adult or older peer contact to promote healthy development and functioning by reducing risk factors. The practice is rated Effective in reducing delinquency outcomes; and Promising in reducing the use of alcohol and drugs; improving school attendance, grades, academic achievement test scores, social skills and peer relationships.

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:
Effective - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types
Promising - More than one Meta-Analysis Drugs & Substance Abuse - Multiple substances
Promising - One Meta-Analysis Education - Multiple education outcomes
Promising - One Meta-Analysis Mental Health & Behavioral Health - Psychological functioning
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Program Snapshot

Gender: Both

Race/Ethnicity: Black, White, Other

Geography: Urban

Setting (Delivery): School

Program Type: Academic Skills Enhancement, Mentoring, Motivational Interviewing

Current Program Status: Not Active

Listed by Other Directories: Campbell Collaboration, Model Programs Guide