Are youth mentoring programs affected by race, economic status and type of mentor? Bernadette Sanchez thinks so.
Sanchez, a professor of community psychology at DePaul, researches the impact that these and other factors have on the teens who participate.
“I’ve studied both natural and volunteer mentoring relationships. Volunteer mentoring is when an adult is matched with a young person through a program to work together in some way. Natural mentoring happens organically,” she explains, when students connect with teachers, community members or people in their extended family. “I look at how these relationships work and the role they play in academic outcomes.”
Bernadette Sanchez (Photo by Tom Evans)
For example, she studied Latino youth participating in a mentoring program through a CPS school. “These youth were low-income, and the family members they named as mentors had a lower educational level. These mentors had less impact on the students’ educational outcomes compared to youth whose mentors were more knowledgeable about the education system,” she says. “However, the family mentors are probably helping them in other ways, like providing emotional support and being their cheerleaders. … We’re finding that high-quality relationships are the most impactful.”
Sanchez wished to explore these issues more deeply, but she wanted to make sure she was asking the right questions. So, she applied for and received a William T. Grant Foundation fellowship that enabled her to spend 2017 as a youth mentor and 2018 providing technical assistance and training to mentoring programs.
She gained experience with a traditional mentoring program through the Gads Hill Center, a social service agency in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood. She also began volunteering as a child advocate for unaccompanied teens through the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, an activity that she first thought was unrelated to her research. She soon changed her mind.
“The goal of being a child advocate is to build a relationship with the child and to learn their story so we can recommend to lawyers what would be in the child’s best interests. Building a relationship is also the goal in mentoring,” she says. The concepts were so well-aligned that Sanchez held a webinar for Young Center advocates on how to support immigrant youth in the community. She also helped the center create ethical guidelines for advocates that mirrored similar documents used by mentoring programs.
Bernadette Sanchez, a professor of community psychology, is using her research to improve training for mentors across Illinois. (Photo by Tom Evans)
“As I’ve been working in these community settings, I’ve been thinking about trainings for volunteers and staff and trainings around social justice issues. Adults work in a variety of settings, whether it’s judges in criminal justice systems or teachers or mentors at after-school programs, and the policies are all different,” she says. “How can we better train adults in these different settings … and also be oriented to thinking about things such as race and social justice? What are the particular needs in these settings so that we can better serve these youth?”
To find out, Sanchez is working with MENTOR Illinois, an organization that provides technical assistance and training to mentoring organizations around the state. She’s providing training and technical assistance to staff at multiple organizations while making a preliminary assessment on whether such training works.
“Do they change the attitudes of adults and how they work with youth? Do they change their relationship with youth? Ultimately, does it change the outcomes for youth? Those are the different things we need to look at,” says Sanchez. She plans to seek additional funding to continue her research. “I can use this fellowship to understand what the community needs and then go back to my peers, both in research and practice, and try to influence the mentoring field.”