While geographically separated from the U.S., middle and high school students at Aviano Air Base are not immune to the issues facing young people today. In fact, these students have more limited support networks than their counterparts on the mainland. Responding to this need, in April 1997, the 31st Fighter Wing and Department of Defense Schools at Aviano Air Force Base created an innovative mentoring program that focuses on enhancing students' academic ability, career development and provides additional support networks that are otherwise unavailable.
The Base recruited more than enough mentors to work one-on-one with an individual student throughout the school year. The trained mentors are matched with a young person based on the student's career interest areas. A self-sustaining community, the Base is able to recruit from a volunteer pool representing hundreds of career fields. Mentors volunteered more than 700 hours with students in the 1997-98 academic year, taking part in activities such as job shadowing, science experiments, college/career research, homework assignments, computer-aided design projects for base facilities, career fairs and summer employment opportunities. While active duty military mentors receive time off from work to serve as mentors, they receive no monetary compensation.
The Aviano mentors have had a great impact on the students. Parents, teachers and mentors note increased self-confidence in 90% of students with mentors. Students agree—86% say they feel better about themselves since they began participating in the Mentor Program. Academic achievement improved in 86% of students with mentors, report parents. Truancy incidents declined in 75% of students matched with a mentor and 88% of students say that they skip school less, teachers report. Career field knowledge and interest in attending college increased in nearly every student who participated in the Mentor Program.