University of Arizona students mentoring middle schoolers to boost college-going rate
Tucson, AZ | Submitted by Mary Irwin
University of Arizona has found a way to serve at-risk middle schoolers in the Tucson area while also enriching and enlightening undergraduates enrolled in a service-learning experience. Project SOAR (Student Outreach for Access & Resiliency) is having a big impact at both the college and middle school level.
Undergraduate students become mentors to middle school youth in under-resourced schools. They meet together every week to provide support and guidance for the future. Visits can be guided by curriculum provided by the university, or are flexible based on student needs. Mentors provide encouragement, addressing topics including academic strengths, self-esteem, conflict resolution, career exploration and the college search process.
Undergraduates enrolled in the course are exploring issues of college access. It has a big impact on mentors, as they learn about issues that many don’t understand from their own experience. After a semester or two as a mentor, they better understand the barriers impact trajectory toward college. They help to encourage their middle schoolers to consider their futures after high school, and to:
1. Gain a basic understanding of what college is,
2. Why it might be important for their future career, and
3. How one goes about searching for and applying to college.
Middle school students benefit from strong, positive relationships with near-peers who have been through the complex college process. They are able ask questions and allay fears about college searching, financial aid, college life and more. Students are so eager to meet with their mentors that attendance and grades both show improvement.
Plus, in addition to mentoring, the Project SOAR arranges annual major/career fairs every spring. Fairs give undergraduates the chance to reach far more students than they can mentoring.
With nearly 100 undergraduates enrolled every semester, Project SOAR is helping thousands of young people envision a bright future for themselves. Since its inception in 2005, SOAR mentors have logged more than 25,000 mentoring hours and reached 2,300 middle school students. Three out of four participating students have indicated that having a mentor motivated them to do well in school. Most also state that mentors increased their interest in going to college. In a region where only half of high school graduates continue on to higher learning, programs like this will be invaluable to meeting the Arizona Education Progress Meter goal of increasing this to 70 percent statewide.