New GEAR UP Grant Sees The Importance of Mobile and Near Peer Mentoring

Applications for the new 2014 Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) grant that opened June 4th has some exciting updates to its requirements for new applicants. This includes engaging students through mobile messaging and near peer mentors, which are two services we provide with our agency.

The new GEAR UP grant requirements stating that text messaging and near peer mentorship are cost effective “behavioral nudges” to achieve educational outcomes are based on research following high school students and graduates. For more information regarding this research, Click Here.

When Student Success Agency (SSA) was launched nearly three years ago, we wanted to create an online service that students actually use. To now see research and government initiatives backing the principles and strategies SSA was built on is exciting! Below is a list of challenges you have to consider when deciding to use online services and/or starting a near peer mentoring program for your Gear Up class.

Buy-In

When you start a new program for teenagers, one of the biggest challenges is engagement. Before you can start the program you have to organize some type of ‘hype’ event that communicates with the students the new opportunity and the benefits. The less this ‘hype’ event feels like class or school, the better. Consider bringing an outside face like a sponsor representative or motivational speaker that can help excite your students about your new program. When you start new services at your school, have a representative from the company come to campus to speak with your students. When we do this we usually have music, prizes, and even a couple beat-box battles every now and then ☺.

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Relating

We have all been teenagers before… unless you are 12 years or younger reading this post, which if that’s the case rock on! Just like buy-in, sometimes the only thing that needs to change is the mouth that the message is coming out of. Teens naturally tune out parents and teachers, so when creating a program it needs to be presented as if it is something from their own peer circle. This is called social cache. If you do not have a budget to bring outside people, look to find a coach or administrator that has social acceptance with students. Also, creating and developing a group of students to become leaders and ambassadors for your initiatives has also been very helpful for Gear Up staff. These students should have social proof and leadership on campus to influence others. Connecting your students with college students and having partnerships with universities in your area can also help. College students are similar in age, listen to the same music, and probably speak the same lingo. This makes working on academics or discussing college less threating for the student since their adviser is someone who they can ignite a friendship with.

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Accessibility

The odd thing about college centers at school is that they close around 5 pm. Most students work on college applications, scholarships, and documents after school when they are at home. Not having access to help in real time defeats many students. Online services can help you solve this challenge. The issue with most online videos or literature is that they are solely focused on informing instead of engaging. If you are personally going to create videos or literature, you have to make it modern. I would hire someone who maybe writes a pop blog to send your text messages or content. If you do video, hire a comedian so the content can also be entertaining. You want to find company partners that have done some of these things. Try to find video that is consumable and leads to actions steps. Also, have your literature include subtle pop culture references and memes to keep students interested. If you decide to use mobile messaging, make it personable. Students do not send dry formal messages. Use fun emojis (this link leads to info just in case you do not know what this is. I got your back!) and abbreviations to make it casual. And trust me, it’s okay to send something every once in awhile that is funny or cool that has nothing to do with college completion. If anything, that one message will keep them engaged in your initiative.

Tracking

Keeping track of when students use or benefit from anything provided by a Gear Up initiative is sometimes very difficult, especially if they are using the online service or meeting their mentors inconsistently. Since you have to track students for one year after graduation, it is best to have an online service that can interact with your students even when they are not in class or under your watch. You need a service that monitors their activity when they are using the resources or making accomplishments toward college. When researching different tools, look for a service that segments your students, tracks their work, and even allows them to connect with live chat outside of school. The idea here is that you have to find a service that allows you to track and scale your efforts so you can showcase your impact to the district.

Sustainability

One of the goals of Gear Up is to create sustainable outcomes that last even when the grant cycle is completed. When creating your plans on how to engage, relate, and be accessible, you have to consider how your initiative will continue to work on a much smaller budget. This is where online services could help. The cost per student is usually very low and you pay yearly, which allows the service to become a line item in the student services budget of your district. You can use your faculty and students to create social proof on campus. Maybe even partnering with outside universities or community sponsors can make communicating with your teens more effective. At the end of the day, you have to think like a student. Do your homework on what is relevant and think outside of the box on ways to engage them. If you would like to get more information or advice from us at SSA, please fill out our contact sheet below. You can also watch this White House event video where EJ Carrion, co-founder, speaks about our Crowdsource Counseling service.

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