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Developing a Model for Delivering School-Based Mentoring to Students in Military Families

Year: 2014
Name of Institution:
University of Arkansas
Goal: Development and Innovation
Principal Investigator:
Cavell, Timothy
Award Amount: $1,332,245
Award Period: 4 years (9/1/2014–8/28/2018)
Award Number: R305A140285


Co-Principal Investigator: Renee Spencer, Boston University

Purpose: Since 2001, over 2 million children in this country have experienced the military deployment of a parent. Military families tend to be resilient, but deployment-related stress (DRS) can take a significant toll. DRS can negatively affect family life during every phase of the deployment cycle. With lengthy deployments and limited time between deployments, spouses and other relatives must learn to manage households for long periods of time on their own. One-third to one-half of military families relocate or seek support from extended family members and friends during deployment periods. For children, deployments mean prolonged separation from a parent, disruption in daily routines, and concern about the safety of the deployed parent. When their capacity to cope is strained, military students can display regressive and clingy behaviors, somatic complaints, or aggressive acting out. Boys and younger children appear especially vulnerable, as are children in military families facing marital stress or maternal depression. Parents who experience DSR are also more likely to view their children as having difficulties in psychosocial functioning. Recent studies document that DRS not only affects children’s social and emotional functioning but also their academic performance.  School-based mentoring can be an effective and non-stigmatizing intervention for students at risk for social and academic difficulties. The purpose of this project is to develop and test a strategic model, called Military Student Mentoring (MSM), for school-based youth mentoring that is coordinated by school districts and is implemented by local elementary schools, but is built on the foundation of home-school-community partnerships. MSM will include a service delivery model in which schools and school districts identify and engage military students and their parents, and a school-based mentoring model that can effectively meet the needs of military students.

Project Activities: Researchers will follow an iterative process to develop the Military Student Model.  First, the research team will develop the components and protocols for MSM’s service-delivery model and mentoring model. Researchers will then train staff and volunteers to identify, engage, and refer military students to MSM and also will train staff and volunteers to implement the school-based mentoring.  Researchers will then collect evidence on feasibility by implementing MSM and gathering feedback from participants, school districts, and staff.  Finally, researchers will conduct a pilot study assessing the promise of MSM to improve military student outcomes. 

Products: The products for this project will be a fully developed Military Student Mentoring service delivery model and a school-based mentoring model to identify and assist military students experiencing Deployment Related Stress (DRS). Peer reviewed publications will also be produced.

Structured Abstract

Setting: This project will take place in elementary schools near Olympia, WA.

Sample: Participants will include 100 elementary school students whose military parents have experienced deployment related stress.

Intervention: The MSM service delivery model includes multiple components, including a district-level coordinator, school-specific home-school-partnership (HSC) action teams, and adult volunteers who provide school based mentoring. A district-level coordinator is tasked with forging home-school-community (HSC) partnerships that link local schools, military families, and community organizations in an effort to serve military students. School-specific HSC Action Teams comprise a school liaison, a military parent, and a community organization representative. These teams are responsible for identifying and engaging military families, referring military students for school-based mentoring, and for recruiting adult volunteers to serve as mentors. In the MSM school-based mentoring model, students are paired with adult volunteers who are screened, trained to address the needs of students in military families, and supported by local mentoring agencies. School-based mentoring is done weekly over the course of one year.

Control Condition: In the “wait-list” control condition, students will not receive mentoring during the pilot test. They will be matched with a mentor in the year following the pilot test.

Research Design and Methods: The research design for this study follows a three-stage process.  In Stage 1, researchers will focus on the initial development of the MSM, including creating components and protocols for the service-delivery model and the mentoring model. Reliable delivery of mentoring to school-aged children of military members (military students) is likely to be a challenge, especially for students whose families do not live near a military base. Researchers will survey districts with experience serving these students in order to identify challenges to service delivery and effective strategies for identifying and engaging military families and students. Researchers will then develop protocols to train the mentoring coordinator and home-school-community action teams to identify, engage, and refer military students to school-based mentoring. Next the researchers will develop the mentoring model based on lessons-learned from prior mentoring projects for military students (such as the Big Brothers Big Sisters San Diego’s Operation Bigs). They will develop a mentoring manual with specific protocols for all of the mentoring components. Both the mentoring and service delivery development will be informed by feedback from service agencies and parents. In Stage 2, researchers will collect evidence on feasibility by implementing MSM and then gathering feedback from participants, school districts, and staff.  In Stage 3, researchers will conduct a pilot study using a randomized control trial design to test the expected outcomes of MSM.   

Key Measures: Proximal outcomes include student engagement in mentoring, student social support, and parental stress. To assess student’s perceptions of support from parents, researchers will use two different measures. The first is the Trust subscale from the Inventory of Parent and Peer Attachment.  Also, students will be asked to complete Goodenow’s (1993) Psychological Sense of School Membership (PSSM), used by many researchers to assess school belonging.  Distal outcomes include academic functioning (e.g., grades, attendance, school belonging) and social/emotional functioning (e.g., self-worth, social acceptance, misconduct, symptoms of anxiety and depression). Assessment of academic functioning in pilot study will include teacher-reported attendance (e.g., unexcused absences) and grades, as well as scales that assess quality of class work and number of assignments completed .  Teachers will also complete the Scholastic Competence subscale of the Teacher Rating Scale (TRS) of Actual Behavior (Harter, 1995). This 15-item measure is designed to parallel Harter’s (1995) Self-Perception Profile for Children (SPPC).  Children will also complete the Global Self-Worth subscale of the SPPC.

Data Analytic Strategy: Researchers will use repeated measures multivariate analyses of covariance to test for change in each of the four outcome domains (student social support, parental stress, academic performance, and social/emotional functioning). Effect size estimates of key outcomes will be determined. In the service of further strengthening the service delivery model and to better understand the elements of mentoring that might explain variability in students’ level of engagement in mentoring (the hypothesized change mechanism), researchers will conduct supplemental analyses examining the predictive utility of measures of program fidelity.  Researchers will compute simple bivariate correlations between student engagement and mentors’ perceptions of staff support, knowledge of military families and youth mentoring, and consistency of visits. Researchers will conduct a qualitative examination of program participants’ perspectives by completing a thematic analysis of the transcripts of the individual interviews with mentors, parents and teachers.

Project Website:

Related IES Projects: School Support, School Connectedness, and the Educational Outcomes of Military-Connected Students: An Exploratory Study of Student Mobility (R305A180142)