The Cities Mentor Project aims to increase academic achievement in Chicago Public Schools by addressing academic challenges, poor coping techniques, and inadequate support systems for Chicago youth. More than 85% of Chicago Public School students are low-income and less than 15% graduate from a four-year college. Positive relationships with adults and development of coping methods, as reported by middle school-aged youth participants, increase social, behavioral, and academic outcomes. These relationships and skills are geared toward working with youth of color, often living in under resourced communities, in coping with trauma and in accessing important developmental opportunities. Through this university-community partnership, ongoing training and support was provided, focused on attunement skills across program staff and college-age mentors to more effectively understand and attend to mentees’ needs. Through tools of reflective practice, data was collected across program implementation to further understand the challenges, strengths, and resources shared through the mentoring relationship, and ways by which attunement training helps facilitate adult-youth connections valued by this program.
College student mentors and their supervisors participated in the attunement training across program implementation. Supervisors completed reflection sheets regularly over 17 weekly sessions, totaling 95 total reflections spanning two quarters, while mentors completed 65 total reflection sheets through a weekly reflection process. Within the reflection form, attention was devoted to mentor and supervisor concerns, as well as strategies used to attune to their mentor and mentee. Content analysis of open-ended reflection forms was conducted, and coding was performed by the research team using NVIVO software to identify core areas of development and implementation of attunement by mentors and staff in building relationships across the mentoring system.
Reflections as gathered during this facilitated practice phase suggest that training on attunement has important implications for adult-child relationships within mentoring programs. Mentors and staff indicated important skill building in connecting with youth, regulating their own emotions (“It allowed me to stayed calm, reflect and be receptive to my mentor's perspective”), and validating emotions of the mentee. Concerns expressed regarding the practice of attunement include time management, establishing boundaries between supervisory groups, and use of active listening in supporting college-age mentors. Supervisors also provided examples of role modeling verbal language important in demonstrating attunement to mentors (e.g., “I think that the "Feeling" aspect of the FAN tool was used heavily in our time”), as they work to connect with their mentees.
Conclusions and Implications
Across training on attunement, data provides a rare look into the process and development of site-based mentoring relationships focused on coping in an urban location impacted by high levels of stress and violence. Process data suggests overall high levels of mentor attunement to mentee needs, as well as focus on relationship building and opportunity for personal sharing. Although mentors report increased relationship closeness and greater mentee trust over time, they also highlight contextual and interpersonal challenges inherent in these relationships, and ways that they sought to address them. Implications for measurement, support, implementation, and development of adult-child relationships in high stress environments are discussed.