Mentoring Teens: Now More than Ever


In November 2008, The Education Alliance began focusing its efforts on a national and state challenge—high school completion. The Education Alliance was awarded a grant from the AT&T foundation to create “Walk the Talk”, a mentoring model that aims to help at-risk high school students complete high school and pursue post-secondary education.


“Walk the Talk” was originally implemented in three West Virginia counties – Kanawha, Ohio and Raleigh.  Groups of three to five students participate in weekly, content-based meetings with a business mentor of the same gender. Mentors help students explore career options, set career goals and plan for post-secondary education. 




In Their Own Voice


During the 2011-2012 school year, The Education Alliance had a unique opportunity to learn in-depth about six Walk the Talk participants. These students were willing to share their stories.  Through their voices we learned about the struggles, dreams, and triumphs many teenagers face each year they are in high school.


Of the six students that were interviewed, only one lived with her or his nuclear family.  A parent or primary guardian of four students had died.  One student had a family member in jail.  Another student was forced by her parents to leave their home during her junior year.  All students reported that re-structured living situations, be they with friends or more distant family relations, provided them with familial support.


All but one student described an important moment in their lives when they took personal responsibility and control for their own actions.  This shifting of the locus of control from parents and other caregivers to themselves is not typical of American teenagers.  Developmental psychologists have suggested that this shift occurs in young adulthood, (e.g. Erikson, 1980), though others have argued that the particular cultural context of one’s development can precipitate “early” developmental shifts (e.g. Rogoff, 2003).  Indeed, the particular life experiences of these students may have forced adult behaviors at a young age.


Sports were a large part of many students’ lives, and it served a motivation and inspiration for success.  Several students described gaining personal confidence as a result of athletic achievement.  Additionally, three students mentioned maintaining the minimum grade point average for eligibility. 

All but one student spoke of attending college.   College was seen by most students as a motivator for academic success, as well as a stepping stone for future personal satisfaction or career achievements. 


Exert from Malayna Bernstein of West Virginia University Program Research and Evaluation Center


Tools & Resources from The Education Alliance


Mentoring Matters: In Their Own Voice (DVD)

Skills for Student Success Curriculum: Mentor Guide

Skills for Student Success Curriculum: Student Notebook