Toolkit on Effective Mentoring for Youth
Facing Barriers to Success

Best practices and resources to build, strengthen, evaluate and sustain effective mentoring programs for youth considered at high-risk of under education, unemployment, homelessness, criminalization, and other negative outcomes.

Youth With Academic Challenges

Key Lessons

  • Mentoring for youth with academic challenges should focus on relational support and engaging in fun activities to build rapport as opposed to teaching or tutoring alone.1, 7, 8
  • Mentors should support mentees in having a voice and making decisions in the relationship.1
  • Mentoring interventions may be more effective if they partner with schools to support the youth.7

Existing Toolkits & Resources

Making the grade: A guide to incorporating academic achievement into mentoring programs and relationships:


Effective Mentoring for Youth with Academic Challenges


Standards & Good Practices

(linked to positive outcomes for participants)

Other Pertinent Info

(from other studies & reports)

Program Planning

Partnering with schools is important for mentoring programs targeted to youth with academic challenge to create systems of support for the youth in the program.7 Youth who struggle with academics may be less likely to have the supports in place to develop informal mentoring relationships that can support their overall growth.1

Program Implementation

Programs are more effective for youth who experience academic challenges when:

  1. Mentors and mentees have more time to spend together
  2. Mentors and mentees participate not only in academic, but also social activities
  3. Mentees are afforded opportunities for self-determination1

Clearly explain to teachers, parents, and other partners that the goal of the mentoring is not teaching or tutoring, but mentoring and relationship development that can support educational outcomes.7


Mentoring programs tend to have more positive effects on social, as opposed to academic development.8

Typically, the higher the needs of the mentee, the less effective the mentoring intervention will be in increasing outcomes.1

Mentoring for youth with academic challenges that took place during schools hours had less positive (and at times negative) effects on academic performance. Mentoring out of school time (at lunch or after school) had positive effects on academics.6

Conversely, multiple studies show the positive academic effects found from mentoring interventions.7

It was found that mentoring relationships for youth
with challenges in the school setting positively impacted academic success, including increased GPA, fewer disciplinary referrals, improved school attendance,
more involvement in class, greater connections with teachers, more commitment to academics, increased chances of graduating, and greater feelings of belonging at school.1, 3, 4, 5

For tips about how to establish a mentoring relationship for youth with academic challenges can be found in Making the Grade.7

Mentee Referral, Selection & Training

When advertising the program, emphasize academic and career support as opposed to relational support. This may attract more people who are uncomfortable with the idea of personal relationships.1

Assess the mentee to determine what factors are influencing their academic difficulties, so those factors can be addressed during the mentoring intervention.1, 7

Mentor Recruitment, Screening & Selection

Mentors who have experience in education or other helping professions should be targeted for recruitment.1

Mentor Training

Mentor training should include:

  • Clarifying that the mentor role is not to be a teacher or tutor;
  • Learning how to work collaboratively with their mentee, and acting with authenticity and empathy;
  • Understanding factors that influence academic performance, including learning styles and needs;
  • Practicing solving problems the mentee may experience at school;
  • Reading the mentee and assessing the challenges they are having and how that might impact the relationship; and
  • How to connect with parents and caregivers.1, 7

Matching Process

Mentors who share life experiences with their mentees may be seen as more credible and thus developing relationships with their mentees may be easier.2

Allow mentees to choose mentors or ensure they are matched based on shared academic/career interests.1, 7

Mentoring Relationship Development

Mentors can support a young person struggling with academic challenges through a developmental approach by:

  • Beginning with relationship development and then adding academic activities as needed, as school may be a sensitive issue;
  • Using collaborative decision-making so the young person feels they have agency;
  • Doing fun activities with their mentees;
  • Connecting their mentees to academic support services;
  • Working with school staff and parents to identify the mentee’s assets;
  • Building their tutoring and academic assistance skills; and
  • Including career exploration and volunteering into the mentoring process can help the mentee set career goals and thus become more engaged in learning related to those goals.1, 7

Mentors’ attitudes and beliefs are tied to outcomes for youth. Mentors who believe they are capable of helping, have positive attitudes toward youth, and are interested in self-improvement are more likely to be successful in supporting positive outcomes for their mentees.1

Refer to Making the Grade for ideas about mentoring activities for youth with academic challenges.7

Match Supervision, Support & Retention

Staff should check in with mentees regularly and ask about the relationship. By recognizing challenges and celebrating successes, staff can help mentors feel more competent and can increase outcomes. It should be noted, however, that if emphasis is placed on academics the young person may feel pressured about their academic achievement.1, 7

Parent/ Caregiver/ Family Involvement

Facilitating an orientation for parents/guardians can help them understand the goals of the program, how they can support the work of the mentor, and basic strategies to support their child’s academic development.7 Involving parents in mentoring can support the growth of the mentoring relationship and thus increase the positive academic outcomes.1



  1. Larose, S., & Tarabulsy, G. M. (2013). Academically at-risk students. In DuBois, D. L., & Karcher, M. J. (Eds.), Handbook of Youth Mentoring (pp. 301-315). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.
  2. MENTOR. (2015). Elements of effective practice for mentoring, 4th ed. Retrieved from
  3. Lampley, J. H., & Johnson, K. C. (2010). Mentoring at-risk youth: Improving academic achievement in middle school students. Nonpartisan Education Review, 6(1), 1-12.
  4. Larose, S., Chaloux, N., Monaghan, D., & Tarabulsy, G. M. (2010). Working alliance as a moderator of the impact of mentoring relationships among academically at-risk students. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 40(10), 2656-2686.
  5. Sánchez, B., Esparza, P., & Colón, Y. (2008). Natural mentoring under the microscope : An investigation of mentoring relationships and Latino adolescents’ academic performance. Journal of Community Psychology, 36(4), 468-482.
  6. Schwartz, S. E. O., Rhodes, J. E., & Herrera, C. (2012). The influence of meeting time on academic outcomes in school-based mentoring. Children and Youth Services Review, 34(12), 2319-2326.
  7. Cannata, A., Garringer, M., MacRae, P., & Wakeland, D. (2005). Making the grade. A guide to incorporating academic achievement into mentoring programs and relationships. Folsom, CA: U.S. Department of Education, Mentoring Resource Centre.
  8. Rodríguz-Planas, N. (2014) Do mentoring programs change the perspectives and improve the life opportunities of at-risk youth? IZA World of Labor. Retrieved from:
Funding provided by the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services