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Aram Ayalon: How Teachers as Mentors Rescue Disadvantaged Students

In his new book, Professor of Teacher Education Aram Ayalon posits a model to break the cycle of failure for urban, minority, and at-risk students living in poverty in troubled neighborhoods with few resources.

Teachers as Mentors: Models for Promoting Achievement with Disadvantaged and Underrepresented Students by Creating Community (Stylus Publishing, 2011) reminds schools that student success, both social and academic, is greatly influenced by student-teacher relationships. Ayalon looks at two schools, Fenway High School in Boston and Kedma School in Jerusalem,which successfully mentor at-risk students. Students in both schools have excelled academically, rarely drop out, and progress to college insignificant numbers. Fenway has a 90% graduation rate, with 95% of graduates going on to college. Kedma outperforms comparable urban schools by a factor of four.

How to account for their success? “Both schools use similar teacher-as-youth-mentor and youth advising models,” says Ayalon. “Teachers and students regularly attend a mentoring program through which curriculum is integrated with mentoring. The social, emotional, cultural, and academic needs of students are dealt with. Close mentor-student-parent relationships are supported. The model furthermore includes extensive counseling support for the mentors themselves.”

Ayalon provides a detailed description of their methods, based upon extensive observation and interviews with teachers, students, administrators, and parents.

Carol A. Mullen, the former editor of Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, comments: “Culture-building through mentoring capitalizes on relationships between teachers and students within democratic learning environments. Teachers who want to become mentors are given specific suggestions for creating close, nurturing relationships through a range of structure, strategies, and resources.”

Ayalon has conducted research and published in the areas of multicultural education, teacher as a mentor, school-university partnership, and action research. He has been a professor of secondary education since 1989—first in the State University of New York College at Potsdam and then at CCSU since 2001. In 2008 he was a visiting professor at Tel Aviv University where he taught qualitative research and teacher-as-mentor courses. He now serves as a school board member for the New Britain school district.

Born in a Kibbutz in Israel, Ayalon graduated from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in animal science, and after working as a high school science teacher in Tucson, Arizona, graduated with a PhD in curriculum instruction from University of Arizona.

What was the motivation for writing this book? Ayalon responds: “As a native of Israel now living in the US, I became interested in Kedma High School in Jerusalem, because as an Ashkenazi Israeli who grew up in a relatively privileged environment, I had little comprehension of the challenges facing Mizrahi children. Not until I married a woman from Moroccan Jewish background did I become aware of the disparity between Mizrahi and Ashkenazi experiences at school. It is this sense of social injustice that motivated me to explore initiatives that provide equal education opportunities.”

Ayalon has published his research and made presentations on mentoring at-risk students at several American Education Research Association conferences.

Further, his scholarship has examined rural education. “Does multicultural education belong in rural white America?” he states was the focus of several articles he’s written. He found that rural residents were less tolerant than urban dwellers toward civil liberties, sexual nonconformity, religious and political nonconformity, support of minority office-seekers, and racial and ethnic minority groups. Ayalon maintains, “Multicultural education could become instrumental in rural school reform by sparking examination of teaching strategies, curriculum, staffing, and school organization, and by addressing respect for cultural and ethnic diversity.” Currently, he’s undertaken a project to write a first-ever handbook on rural education as a guide for rural area schools, addressing their unique needs and issues.