How text messages help mentors connect with students in Idaho

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The text message is a powerful tool in an unconventional high school program in Idaho.

The technology allows mentors working with Idaho PTECH to reach high school students in far-flung places in this sparsely populated state. The high-tech, one-on-one mentoring is part of a pilot program that aims to help students discover and prepare for a career that they can embark on right out of high school, or with minimal post-secondary training.

“They don’t know what they want a lot of times,” said Alan Millar, executive director of Idaho PTECH, so the mentoring provides “a caring adult to talk about goals, reaffirm them, and make concrete steps how to get there.”

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Idaho PTECH’s mentoring program makes use of InsideTrack, a company that assists with personalized mentoring. Students are also being mentored via an online group – sort of like Facebook – where they interact and do activities. And the mentors are available by phone, too.

Dave Jarrat, a vice president at InsideTrack, said the company had discovered, through work that included mentoring programs at large, well-known universities, that electronic modes of communication allowed them to work with more students more effectively. Some students prefer to talk via text message, for instance, and they open up more to mentors when contacted that way.

“Technology has really helped with that,” said Hayley Kimble, a PTECH mentor from InsideTrack. “Get on the phone and it’s just one-word answers. But I can text back and forth with a student and they won’t lose focus.”

That’s not to say the technology simply serves messages in the most comfortable format. The mentors (they call themselves coaches) ask questions to determine the goals of each student. Some students need to be pushed outside their comfort zone. Kimble worked with one student, who had been homeschooled, on his telephone skills, which were sorely lacking. Improving that skill was important to the student’s success after high school.

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Read more about Blended Learning.

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