Project RAISE in Baltimore: Mentoring as Prevention and Cure

November 1990 / Abell Reports / Education, Health and Human Services

By structuring a program that brings together mentors with mentees, RAISE hopes to provide the “caring connection” for at-risk children – and so improve their life chances.

What is it in the educational experience of wealthy school districts that enables its students as a general rule to learn more than do the children in the poor districts? Smaller classes? More books? Better teachers? Conducive learning environment? Enriched curriculum? Probably some or all of these things are making the difference. But a program in Baltimore called “RAISE” (Raising Ambition Instills Self-Esteem) believes a critical something else belongs in that mix: the “caring connection” often present in middle and upper income families. “Adults being there for children, as mentors–role models, friends and advisors”–that is the way Kalman Hettleman, president of the Baltimore Mentoring Institute that administers the RAISE program, describes the caring connection. “Unfortunately, many children from low-income, unstable families don’t get the kind of encouragement and sense of worth that comes from closer relationships with adults. The children lack what so many other, more fortunate young people are able to take for granted: positive role models and nurturing adults in families and communities. If RAISE can fill some of this gap, we have a good chance of making a vast difference in the lives of these children.”

Although as a first objective RAISE aspires to decrease the incidence of drop­ out, teenage pregnancy and parenting, substance abuse and anti-social behavior among the high-risk students, its overall objective is no less than that of providing these same students with a foundation for living a productive, achieving and fulfilling life. The RAISE program is a seven-year commitment to thirteen groups, each with approximately 60 students. The commitment is made jointly by RAISE, Inc., a nonprofit corporation in Baltimore City, and sponsoring organizations–such as churches and businesses, each of which adopts one student group for seven years. The students are selected from public schools in Baltimore City which have large percentages of very low-income, low­ achieving children. “Children in the RAISE program,” Hettleman says, “are among the highest at risk in the city public schools.”