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Researchers urge seizing an opportunity to mentor foster and homeless students

California’s community schools initiative offers an opportunity to incorporate mentoring of foster and homeless students; however, training will be critical for mentoring to be effective, concluded researchers from San José State University’s Center for Collaborative Research Excellence in Education in a brief released last month.

The state’s $4 billion community schools program, which is just starting, will mesh academic improvement with community-based services focused on students’ health and development in hundreds, and eventually thousands, of low-income schools. It’s intended to support the state’s most vulnerable students, including an estimated 32,400 youths in foster care and 183,000 students experiencing homelessness, as of 2020-21.

Authors Brent Duckor, Lorri Capizzi and Lauren Reagan acknowledge that research on designing, implementing and evaluating effective mentoring programs for these youths is “scant but emerging.” But what is certain is that the social isolation of homelessness and challenges of living in foster care create challenges in succeeding in school and transitioning to college. Mentoring in school or a community center can help overcome challenges by building trusting relationships that many such students lack.

The researchers recommend that community schools identify volunteers from the community and educational staff as potential mentors, then train them to understand foster and homeless students’ unique needs. Universities could create certificate programs in mentoring for aspiring and existing teachers in evidence-based strategies. Schools could set up peer mentorships matching college students who have experienced foster care and homelessness. It could also partner with organizations like Big Brothers, Big Sisters with a proven record of effectiveness, the report said.

In addition to funding through community school grants, districts are required to address the needs of foster and homeless children in receiving supplemental funding through the local control funding formula. The federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act also authorizes funding for before- and after-school mentoring and summer programs for homeless children led by qualified teachers and staff.