Youth work researchers have developed a mentoring model to help students get the most from their education.
Associate Professor Robyn Broadbent led the collaborative research project with Harvester Technical College, which delivers applied and vocational training for students at risk of failing to complete their basic education.
Victoria University undergraduate youth work students were involved in the project as mentors for around 200 year 10 and 11 Harvester students. Together they ran health and wellbeing programs, a breakfast and cooking club, student voice and leadership activities, and weekly job search sessions.
Associate Professor Broadbent said the purpose was to increase students’ connection to their school and, through mentoring, help them access the educational and social opportunities available to them.
“Some young people just need a good relationship with the right person to help them navigate life’s challenges, even for relatively small things like pulling together a CV, staying interested in your studies or applying for a job,” she said.
Associate Professor Broadbent said overcoming barriers to completing basic education was the first important step in helping disadvantaged students achieve further education success, improve their community connections, develop personal skills and ultimately find employment.
Evaluation of the year-long pilot program – believed to be the first of its kind in Australia – showed clear improvements in student retention. Given the serious employment consequences faced by young people who leave school early, this was an important outcome. Behaviour also improved, with students enjoying classes more and taking on the opportunities offered to them.
Meanwhile, those completing work experience placements through the program reported increased aspirations to complete their course and enter a particular vocation.
Associate Professor Broadbent said the student mentoring, which was carried out under supervision from professional youth workers, was crucial to the program’s success.
“We had western suburbs young people working with other western suburbs young people: they were mostly from similar backgrounds and understood the issues but had managed to achieve university entry and confidence in where they’re going,” she said. “The message coming from these mentors, that you can achieve if you persist, is a very powerful one.”
A full evaluation of the pilot program was delivered to the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust in early 2014. Two similar programs are now being rolled out through other schools in Melbourne.
Since the pilot project, researchers have produced a youth work kit containing information on a range of student activities and engagement programs, along with the results from the research on what works best in their practical application.
“It will never be a one-size-fits-all program but the more we understand about what works and why, the better we can tailor it as needed to almost any challenging educational environment,” she said.
Associate Professor Broadbent said the project demonstrated the true value of applied research partnerships.
“In a project like this the researcher gains access to a real world situation where a research problem presents itself, while the partner gets the hard data on what works, and why, in their specific context,” she said.
This is one of 20 collaborative research projects featured in the new Research Highlights.