In her job as a “dream director,” Jessica Valoris is tasked with unleashing the potential of disadvantaged students at an inner-city high school in Washington, D.C. Her employer, a New York-based nonprofit called The Future Project, embeds mentors like Valoris in public schools, characterizing her role as a “midwife of dreams” and “warrior of possibility.” The Atlantic’s video team has documented the power that mentors like Valoris can have at a defining juncture in the lives of disadvantaged young people: high school.
Serious risks like homelessness, suspension, early parenthood, and a lack of academic confidence threaten to derail poor, young Americans on their path toward high-school graduation. Yet stories like this one, and a growing body of research—including a study last year by America’s Promise Alliance, which found that students with social support are more likely to re-engage with school in the face of adversity—suggest that the United States should invest broadly in mentorship.
“Just as the federal government can see something like health care as a basic need, mentoring should be that, too,” said David Shapiro, the CEO of The National Mentoring Partnership, a founding partner of America’s Promise Alliance that, among other things, advocates for federal funding. “Having consistent support, outside home is essential.” Experts emphasize that mentorship entails much more than offering compassion to a child; mentors serve a range of needs, from ensuring access to food and other basic resources to setting academic expectations. But how scalable are its current models?