George Lucas Educational Foundation
Student Engagement

Improving Attendance Through Mentorship

A junior high program pairs at-risk students with staff members to foster relationships based on trust that help keep the kids in school.

February 23, 2024
Valeriy_G / iStock

Schools today not only focus on academic achievement but also have a responsibility to address social, behavioral, and attendance concerns, all of which can impact academics. This can be a challenge, especially with limited funds and resources. That’s why our school created a mentorship program that allowed us to take an individualized approach to address a variety of needs by selecting the most at-risk students and pairing them up with a school employee as a mentor.

The thought process behind the program was simple: Sometimes students need to know that there’s an adult at school who would like to see them. A mentor has the ability to form a meaningful relationship with their mentee and create opportunities for positive experiences at school.

Our school focused on kids who were identified by their previous teachers as ones who might struggle with the transition from elementary school to junior high. These were students who exhibited academic, behavioral, social, or attendance needs. Our intent was to create a strong positive relationship between the students and the school.

Roles and Responsibilities

Our inclusion facilitator was responsible for collecting from the sixth-grade teachers the names of students they felt would benefit the most from the program in seventh grade. She also recruited volunteer mentors and matched mentors to mentees based on scheduling and personality traits, provided training on the expectations of a mentorship, and oversaw basic needs such as solving any student issues that might arise throughout the year.

During the school year, and as the success of the program grew, it was common for junior high teachers to identify additional students who could benefit from the program.

Mentors within the school were any school employee who volunteered to be in the program. This included teachers, paraprofessionals, administrators, guidance counselors, and resource officers. As we all know, it sometimes takes a village to foster positive change.

The responsibility of the mentors was straightforward: Create a positive relationship with their mentee. This involved meeting with one’s mentee a couple of times each month. Mentors could meet with their students before school, during their planning period, during lunch, or after school. It was up to the mentor and the student to figure out a schedule that would work best for both parties. We usually discussed school, any challenges they might be facing, and their interests.

It’s important to note that the mentorship program is never used as a form of discipline. If the student exhibited any sort of negative behavior, it would not impact his or her opportunity to meet with their mentor. Additionally, it isn’t the mentor’s responsibility to enforce any sort of consequence with their mentee. Instead, mentors could discuss any concerns and look into bettering the student’s outcomes in academics, behavior, attendance, etc.


Training is crucial when starting a mentor program. Volunteers need to be aware of the expectations. We typically had a meeting at the beginning and end of the school year to share ideas and troubleshoot issues. A midyear meeting can be beneficial to refresh key points. We were also encouraged to reach out to our inclusion facilitator if there were any immediate needs.

When the program began, mentors were encouraged to create experiences based on their student’s interests: If their student enjoyed science, do a science experiment. If their student liked to read, visit the library. The program was flexible enough to allow authentic relationships to form.

I saw some mentors throw pizza parties during lunch for their students, who got to invite their friends to eat in the teachers’ room. One mentor bought their student a bike, so he could ride to school instead of walking. The superintendent—who was a mentor—made his student feel like he was the most important kid in the class anytime he got a visit from “the big boss.”

At times, the students’ needs were bigger than what could be met by the mentors. We were encouraged to reach out to guidance counselors or administrators when a need arose that might be too challenging. Addressing these dire needs with administrators often led to solutions. These needs and subsequent solutions might have been missed without this program.


The impact was astounding. Students who typically didn’t enjoy school began having a positive relationship with it and a sense of belonging. Needs could be addressed not with discipline but with positive engagement.

For example, a couple of years ago, I had a mentee with attendance and behavior concerns. I made it a habit to meet with him on Thursdays and Fridays, when he was most likely to be absent—I always stopped by to see him the day before and let him know I would be pulling him from class the following day. He told me once, “I wasn’t going to come today, but then I remembered you were pulling me from class.” That small win was the beginning of documented attendance improvement.

The program seems simple, but it truly works. While we focused primarily on seventh grade, the first year in our junior high school, the relationships formed were never lost. Many mentors talk about their mentees from previous years and the long-lasting relationships they still maintain today. The program shows students who have serious needs that there’s an adult at school who cares about them, wants to see them, and is rooting for them.

This program fosters a sense of belonging for the students and is a win-win for both the mentees and mentors. The students feel more like valued members of the school community, and the mentors know they’re having a positive impact on students’ educational experience.

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  • 6-8 Middle School

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