Mentoring at-risk youth: A research review and evaluation of the impacts of the Sponsor-A-Scholar program on student performance

Amy Wellington Johnson, University of Pennsylvania


Many young adults leave the education system earlier than their capabilities warrant, either dropping out of high school prior to graduation, or graduating but not pursuing a college degree. Impatient with public education's failings in these areas, organizations are increasingly turning to private interventions to address this lost potential. Mentoring programs are one such intervention. The primary theory behind mentoring is that caring and influential adults--related or not--can provide youth with a form of social capital that is invaluable to their development. There are very few controlled empirical studies, however, indicating whether planned mentoring relationships are an effective way to address some of the developmental needs and long-term outcomes of today's youth. This study shows that mentoring can have a significant marginal impact on future academic performance, and that it helps those with greater need. Following a discussion of the history and theory behind mentoring and a review of the available research, findings are presented from an empirical longitudinal evaluation of one mentoring program: The Sponsor-A-Scholar Program in Philadelphia. Data sources used in the evaluation include student surveys, mentor surveys, high school transcripts, school district information on the characteristics of the high schools students attend, program records, and interviews with students, mentors, and school guidance counselors. Formal regression analysis is used. There are several findings from the evaluation: (1) Sponsor-A-Scholar has a positive and significant impact on academic performance in tenth and eleventh grade (but not in twelfth grade), on the extent of student participation in college preparation activities, and on college attendance during the first year after high school. (2) Program participation did not significantly impact students' measured self-esteem. (3) Disadvantaged students were found to benefit more from program participation than were others. (4) The depth of the commitment of the mentor was relevant to helping students achieve the program goals. These conclusions suggest recommendations for the design and operation of mentoring programs.

Subject Area

Educational sociology|Secondary education|Educational psychology

Recommended Citation

Johnson, Amy Wellington, "Mentoring at-risk youth: A research review and evaluation of the impacts of the Sponsor-A-Scholar program on student performance" (1997). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9727243.