Campbell: Mentoring key to student success

Andrea J. Campbell | 6/29/2017, 6 a.m.

One of the best things I get to do as a Boston City Councilor is meet with young people from my district, whether at their schools, in their after-school programs or during their group visits to City Hall. These visits allow me to talk with students and hear firsthand about the power of youth-serving programs. I often explain to the students that, but for great mentors and teachers, after-school sports and academic programs, and many caring adults, I would certainly not be where I am today.

Born and raised in Boston, my childhood was filled with instability. When I was 8 months old, my mother died suddenly in a car accident while going to visit my father in prison. I did not meet my father until I was 8 years old because he was incarcerated. My brothers and I bounced around between living with relatives and foster care. That I could count on school and my after-school activities to be consistent and supportive helped me stay focused and on track. Yet I recognize not all of my peers, including my brothers, were so blessed.

Both of my brothers cycled in and out of the criminal justice system during my young adulthood, and my twin brother, Andre, would eventually pass away while in the custody of the Department of Correction as a pretrial detainee. He was only 29 years old. I often think about Andre, asking myself: How did and do two twins born and raised in the City of Boston end up with such different life outcomes?

In trying to answer this question, I point to the discrepancy in support and opportunity he and I received in and after school. Though Andre and I both attended Boston public schools, I was usually assigned to better performing schools and schools that offered incredible job opportunities, after-school programs, and mentorship, the benefits of which I still reap to this day. Andre, on the other hand, was vulnerable to school environments that lacked academic rigor, quality mentoring or free after-school programming, and offered few job opportunities. Instead, he was often subjected to harsh discipline policies and little social-emotional support or wrap-around services to support what he faced at home and in the street.

Sadly, my story is not unique. According to the Mass Mentoring Partnership, 41 percent of students feel that they do not have anyone to talk to about challenges they face at home or in their community. Research has shown that without proper support structures in school, students are less likely to graduate and continue their education.

In the Commonwealth, 5,500 students did not complete the 2015-2016 school year. There is a clear need for greater social-emotional support in schools as a remedy to high dropout rates. Those who drop out of school are less likely to have a job, and if they do, they often earn less, do not have health insurance and are more likely to be incarcerated. This pattern, often referred to as the school-to-prison pipeline, is a substantial contributing factor to the high incarceration rates in this country, especially among young people of color. For example, the Brookings Institution through a series of policy memos has found that the majority of criminal offenders are between the ages of 11 and 30. Furthermore, 60 percent of black male high-school dropouts will go to prison before the age of 35.