Academic mentoring programs promote high school completion for at-risk youth. The purpose of this study was to hear the voice of youth in order to inform program services and develop best practices for meeting their academic needs. Using a grounded theory approach, we conducted 14 focus groups to examine high school students’ perceptions and experiences in the Avenue Scholars Foundation program. This study supported previous findings: students’ comments reflected on the importance of the relationships built in the program, the knowledge they gained, and their experiences regarding higher education and careers. The students shared that these experiences were increasingly meaningful because of the relationship built with their Talent Advisor and classmates. These relationships instilled hope for the future, created a pathway to college and career, and confirmed a belief that the students could accomplish their goals.
The findings suggest the relationship between the Talent Advisor and the student served as a conduit for meaningful educational experiences and increased accountability. This was possible because the program and Talent Advisors had a presence in the school and were able to operate as part of the school and school day but without the typical demands of teachers and other school personnel. This close partnership between the schools and the Talent Advisors allowed for a more meaningful mentoring experience for students.
The findings support the importance of a relationship between the mentor and mentee in SBM. In addition to having ASF students in their classes, Talent Advisors are expected to build close relationships with students and dedicate time during the school day to check in with students about their attendance, education, and general well-being. This added support, especially in the school setting, proved to be an integral component in students’ perceptions of academic success and experiences, as assessed by our study.