A staggering 26% of Australian youth do not attain a Year 12 or Certificate III equivalent by age 19, according to recent data. However, new research shows that just 15 minutes a day with an adult mentor can reengage young people in learning and reboot their school life.
The projectHOPE initiative, developed by the Australian Catholic University’s Institute for Positive Psychology and Education asked 49 at-risk high school students, from nine NSW schools, to participate in a 15-minute online mentoring session from qualified mentors, once a week.
What they found was astounding.
“Project Hope taught us that 15 minutes a day can make a big difference,” lead researcher, Professor Joseph Ciarrochi, told The Educator.
“We mentors listened to their hopes and concerns and helped them where we could, and that was enough to make a difference. We're talking about just 15 minutes a week.”
Professor Ciarrochi said the main thing the team of researchers learned was that young people have many struggles in their life, and they don't always discuss their issues with other people.
“Our past research suggests that about one in four young people receive little social support from peers, parents, and teachers. Lack of support and loneliness can be risk factors for poor mental health and school disengagement,” he explained.
“Caring adults may be aware the young people struggle but think there's nothing they can do. Maybe they think there's not enough time or it will take too much effort to help.”
Professor Ciarrochi said school leaders can help by supporting inexpensive online mentoring programs, especially targeting their most problematic students.
“These difficult students often take an inordinate amount of teacher time, so if you can help them settle down and engage with school, it helps the teachers, classmates, and everybody,” he said.
“I would suggest that lower intensity mentoring programs be used with youth that are still fairly engaged with school but struggling and perhaps being a bit disruptive.”
Professor Ciarrochi said said that if teachers have youth that are causing major disruptions, or are already disengaged and not attending school, then a program like Project Hope may not work for them.
“These students may need more intensive support. I would also encourage leaders to spread the message of teachers’ importance. That is, teachers have more power to influence kids than they think. Small acts of compassion, interest, kindness, and support can make a big difference,” he said.
“Sometimes teachers don't have 15 minutes a week to dedicate to each student. They are super busy and have almost no time in the day for anything. This is a flaw in our system: I believe we don’t sufficiently support teachers. We need more teachers, and they need a higher rate of pay.”
Still, Professor Ciarrochi says teachers can provide some support for the emotional needs of a student, even in just a few minutes.
“During those few minutes, the teacher can show the young person that the teacher notices them, believes in them (You can do it!), cares for them (I hope you do well), and is interested in their life (Did you do anything fun this weekend?),” he said.
“I don’t think it takes much, and I think this kind of nurturing relationship will not only help the student, but also the teacher, who will benefit from giving and feeling compassion.”
Professor Ciarrochi said that principals can be encouraged by the fact that ProjectHOPE is a cost-effective, evidence-based program that schools leaders can adapt to support student engagement and wellbeing.
“School leaders in rural/regional Australia would especially benefit from programs like Check and Connect to help student engagement.”