MOSAIC (Mentoring to Overcome Struggles and Inspire Courage) at California State University, Northridge (CSUN) provides a national model for linking college students with youth at risk for educational failure, gang and family violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and emotional trauma, developed with a grant from The Corporation for National and Community Services .For 10 years, more than 500 college students have worked with nearly 800 youth enrolled in Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) continuation high schools.
Students we serve attend schools in the LAUSD. The LAUSD has zero tolerance policies for behaviors such as absences, drug possession, substance use, gang affiliation, and violence. As a result, schools expel students who act out, rather than instituting prevention, intervention, tutoring, mentoring, or counseling programs. The overcrowded district is also among the worst in the nation in terms of high school dropout rates, with rates as high as 60% in the schools where MOSAIC youth live (Landsberg & Blume, 2008). Worse, their test scores place them in the lowest third on California’s statewide Academic Performance Index; 59% of the families are Limited English Proficient; and 93.7% are eligible for the Federal Lunch Program. Currently, MOSAIC partners with four continuation high schools in the San Fernando Valley. Participants are overwhelmingly young men of color: 87% Latino, 5% African American, and 2% Asian American.
Since 2002, California State University Northridge (CSUN) has conducted a service learning program that matches our mostly underrepresented minority college students with at risk youth as peer mentors and advisors. MOSAIC grew from collaboration with community partners who saw a significant unmet need in local continuation schools, which are often the “last stop” a student makes before permanently leaving school. These students are undoubtedly our most vulnerable youth. Unfortunately, they are also the least likely to receive help. Our program is unique in that it works exclusively with this population; a population that has been largely abandoned. MOSAIC mentors focus on increasing self-efficacy through goal achievement, mentoring, academic assistance, art, recreation, and civic engagement activities; they make meaningful connections that significantly increase the chance that these young people achieve high school graduation, college readiness, and workforce competency. Weekly, MOSAIC Mentors attend (Sociology 420csl) training in mentoring, academic tutoring, effective program delivery, and evaluation. Studies suggest that youth are more likely to achieve success if they see it modeled by someone who shares a similar perspective (Parajas, 2002). Therefore, MOSAIC mentors engage youth through a shared understanding of contemporary youth culture. The Action Plan (AP) is our primary mentoring tool and is based on the theory of self-efficacy. Successful goal attainment functions to increase youth self-efficacy, which in turn is strongly correlated with successful educational outcomes (Bandura, 1986). Youth identify a primary goal (e.g. improved test scores in a specific subject) as well as intermediate or secondary goals (e.g. effective time management/study skills) that address perceived barriers to success and increase the likelihood of primary goal achievement. Research suggests that goal setting and attainment enhances self-efficacy; both are powerful influences on academic attainment, which act as protective factors against delinquent behavior (Zimmerman, Bandura, & Martinez-Pons, 1992; Howell, 2003). Youth also interact with mentors on field trips, gender groups, and theater-based performance. MOSAIC is innovative in its use of gender groups, which provide a safe, engaging space for young men to explore identity, overcome negative messages and stereotypes about masculinity, and find their own authentic “voice”. Mentors and youth are together 6 hours a week for at least one academic semester.
Other continuation high schools in LAUSD, struggling high schools, and middle schools have asked about our services over the years. We are eager to expand into more schools, with appropriate resources. Because our mentoring model is based on working within contemporary youth culture, it is unique and in demand. MOSAIC youth talk to their peers about us. Our goal is to expand the program, and also to build on the success of the gender groups using Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed (1979) as a way to help youth write and tell their stories through performance. This experience will help the youth both academically and socially. Boal’s theory aligns well with MOSAIC and would be an excellent culmination project for youth to express an emergent, positive masculine identity. MOSAIC wishes to initiate longer-range measures, to follow our participants beyond high school graduation, into college and career entry. Our program is well documented and could be replicated in other communities that serve similar populations.
The goals of MOSAIC are to increase youth efficacy as measured by the youths’ goal attainment, and to increase educational success and high school graduation. While we have attended many graduations and our principal partners claim more students are graduating, we have mainly qualitative evidence of these positive outcomes. We do know that 48% of MOSAIC graduates attain the school’s honor roll. Our goal is to identify a process that will allow us to track graduations and to follow the youth as they leave high school to identify best practices through a longitudinal study. Currently, we have anecdotal evidence that many go on to join the military, get blue collar jobs, and enroll in community college.
To date, we have worked exclusively in high schools, but knowing the importance of prevention in early intervention programs, we are ready to partner with area middle schools that act as feeder schools to low performing high schools. CSUN has strong, long-standing bonds with LAUSD staff and faculty that we can use to facilitate growth throughout the school system and focus on schools that demonstrate the most need.