I had the amazing opportunity to observe, participate, and even add some closing inspirational remarks at the Corporate Mentor Training held at Microsoft’s headquarters in Denver, which was led by Erika Porter and her team from Denver Public Schools.

For all those educators and companies considering embarking on building a mentoring program, what I’m about to share is a program that not only has several years under its belt, but also has enjoyed ample funding. That said, there are still many takeaways to be had for beginners who are building mentoring models. I wanted to expand from my last newsletter about DPS and get into the weeds. Why? So both you and I could have a better understanding of this signature program.

Some highlights and logistics:

  • There are four at the start of the school year;
  • Each training is filled with last year’s mentors for a 90-minute refresher;
  • New mentors are there for an additional 90 minutes;
  • There were approximately 50 in attendance for one of the four trainings; and
  • All attendees were from big businesses around the Denver area.

In the case of schools:

  • Each of ten schools participates;
  • Each school has a Mentor Coordinator on staff;
  • In the Career Connect program, there are strands for career interests including Energy, Health Care, Tech, Hospitality, Creative, and Construction – to name a few; and
  • Students are given profiles to help them self-identify where their interests lie.

From the perspective of mentors and mentees:

  • Each individual Mentor commits (by contract) to eight visits a year;
  • Each visit is three hours in duration and alternates between the school and the Mentor’s place of work (the Career Connect team arranges transportation);
  • Each three-hour visit is designed with a spelled-out curriculum;
  • The in-school Mentor Coordinator facilitates the curriculum;
  • Most often, pairings are one-to-one between Mentor and Mentee;
  • Mentees are also prepared, and expectations are shaped, prior to meeting an adult Mentor – this ensures buy-in; and
  • Most youth are in tenth grade, as they are beginning to think about careers.

The primary goals of the program are, in their own words: “To provide career-focused instruction and training and to prepare students for post-secondary studies and job placement.”

Much of the growth is in STEAM career pathways, with a focus on developing and implementing project-based learning. However, a critical part of the expansion of the program includes work-based learning (e.g. job shadowing, mentoring, and internships). Research shows career-focused coursework combined with experience in work-based learning results in increased graduation rates, motivation in academic study, course completion and job earnings following graduation. Notably, these results were proven in SRI International’s five-year study of California’s Linked Learning Initiative, and within Denver Public Schools, where Career Connect students were 30% more likely to graduate than their peers. Moreover, Harvard University published an internal regression study that supported these findings.

In closing, I had the pleasure to share with Denver’s budding Mentors one of my favorite student letters. I was on the edge of my seat with excitement for the experience each Mentor was about to have – the impact this program would have on each and every student – and I wanted them to hear an example of the ripple effect, the gratitude, and how a life could be changed from this generous effort.

Hats off to Denver Public Schools. Thank you for allowing me to be a fly on the wall, and to share in your trend-setting programs.