Schools mold their students in ways so numerous and varied that some remain almost entirely ambiguous. Experts have long studied how teachers impart knowledge and prepare young adults for the workforce, and a flood of more recent research has examined the value of developing patience, persistence, and other social and emotional skills. But the informal relationships that school staff form with kids, one of the most familiar conduits through which they receive life guidance and prepare for adulthood, are comparatively obscure.

New research being released today aims to change that by focusing explicitly on the effects of in-school mentoring. The study, circulated as a working paper through Brown University’s Annenberg Institute for School Reform, finds that high school students with mentors tend to earn better grades, stay in school longer, and make more money than peers who are otherwise similar to them. Unfortunately, the lower-income students who seem to benefit the most from mentoring at school are also the least likely to receive it.

The paper builds on existing research that has detected significant benefits from providing mentors to kids. But that work has usually looked at structured and well-known programs like Big Brothers Big Sisters, which draws together adults and children who are both expressly looking to establish connections. Matthew Kraft, an economics professor at Brown and one of the study’s authors, said that the webs of “natural mentoring” in school environments represent a much more common phenomenon that needs to be investigated in its own right.

“Natural mentoring — when students and adults in school buildings develop relationships that go beyond the formal role of the teacher in the classroom or a coach on the athletic field — happens far more frequently than the ways in which we offer formal mentoring,” Kraft said. “So we need to understand the degree to which that matters for kids, where it’s happening, and where it’s not happening.”

Read the full article about student mentoring by Kevin Mahnken at The 74.