ASPIRE is a student mentoring program designed to provide Camden youth with the academic and socio-emotional support they need to excel in high school and advance towards graduation.
The program was created by the Rutgers CLC in February 2009 and is funded through a four-year $400,000 grant from the AT&T Foundation, one of four grants totaling $1.4 million to schools in New Jersey to assist their high school retention efforts.
At the heart of the ASPIRE program is the key role of mentors who work with their mentee, parents, and teachers to inspire, motivate, and encourage positive youth development. ASPIRE recruits college students in Camden City to mentor 9th graders in LEAP Academy University Charter School.
The program uses a model called “Check & Connect”, which is a dropout prevention program originally developed by the Institute on Community Integration at the University of Minnesota. Using this model, mentors “Check” students through informal weekly conversations or homework help and then “Connect” students to any school support services they might need (e.g. tutoring, counseling, or enrichment activities).
These regular interactions create trust between the student and mentor and also provide the mentor with insight into the child’s life and allow him to work with parents and administrators to determine the type of support best suited to the child’s needs.
Ultimately, this preemptive approach will allow schools to identify and reach out to at-risk children who otherwise may have dropped out and instead offer the help they need to continue their education.