Prepare2Nspire cascading mentoring

Prepare2NSpire Empowers Students Through Cascading Mentoring

Prepare2NSpire, a program for students in the Twin Cities, is based on the practice of “cascading mentoring” which uses the knowledge of older students to aid their younger counterparts. It’s highly successful in helping children achieve in math and science, but now faces a funding shortage that threatens the future of the program.

Preparing Students for Math Success

Prepare2NSpire is a multi-grade mathematics tutoring and mentoring program that primarily serves students from underserved communities. The program helps foster success for students from middle school through their college admission tests. Prepare2NSpire is open and free to any student who can get to the program site in North Minneapolis. Our curriculum supports students on their grade-level math as well as the ACT and SAT math test that they will encounter as they apply for college.

The mentors are undergraduates from the University of Minnesota, majoring in subjects like biology and engineering. We meet every Wednesday, focusing on middle school students for the first hour. Then, we have dinner and tutor our high school students for the remaining two hours. Currently, we have about 25 undergraduates serving as mentors to 75 high school students and 30 middle schools students.

The Benefits of Cascading Mentoring

I started thinking about ways to help underserved urban students in 2011, when Minnesota instituted new standards requiring 8th graders to take algebra. I knew this would have an impact on the urban students I had worked with in my 35 years as a teacher, as many of them already struggled to keep up in math and science. I worked with a group of 8th graders for that year. Out of that experience, I developed a tutoring model and eventually received a grant for Prepare2NSpire, which allowed us to offer our program for free and offer our high school students bus passes to get to the program site.

The program is based on the concept of “cascading mentoring.” Like a waterfall, information trickles down from the older college students to our high school students, who in turn act as mentors to our middle school students. We’ve found that older peers are more effective in reaching younger students, and transmit both formal and informal knowledge to the kids in our program.

The formal knowledge helps them succeed in the classroom, but the informal knowledge is just as valuable. For instance, our high school seniors who are ready to apply to college may have questions about the process and what to expect from their first year. The same goes for middle school students getting ready to make the transition to high school. In both cases, older students can best answer these questions – especially since many students might be hesitant to approach an adult with their concerns. The tutors are a ready and approachable resource for questions just like this.

Inspiring Success, Uncertain Future

In its four years, Prepare2NSpire has made a real impact on the students and mentors that have participated in it. While we’ve seen the improved academic performance among our students that we hoped for when we started the program, there have also been unexpected outcomes that show just how effective it’s been.

Some of the students who have gone through the program increased their GPAs (grade point average) and ACT scores to the point where they were accepted to the University of Minnesota. Now, they’ve returned to Prepare2NSpire as mentors, helping the next wave of high school students achieve success. That’s a testament to the power of cascading mentoring. Programs like Prepare2NSpire can create a pathway to a teaching career to students who may not have considered one by exposing them to the mentoring and tutoring in high school.

Despite the success we’ve had, the grant that has funded our program for the past four years has expired. If we do not secure further funding, the progress we’ve made in implementing community- and peer-based mentoring and tutoring for our students will be lost. Across the political spectrum, people are looking for ways to improve our educational system. Prepare2NSpire is a proven, cost-effective and impactful method of empowering student success – one that benefits both students and mentors. I know it works because I’ve seen the results. Now, we need help from the community to continue this important work. If you would like to help – or know of an organization that might be able to provide funding for Prepare2NSpire – don’t hesitate to email me.

Lesa Covington Clarkson

About the Author

Lesa Covington Clarkson, Ph.D.

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