Amanda Gallardo took on a role that every young person needs in their lives: a caring mentor. She offered both practical and moral support, and as his senior year progressed, her mentee, Steffan Barahona started coming into Gallardo’s office for more than academic advice. They would talk when his home life was stressful, his classwork was too much, or he had challenges with friends at school.

Gallardo — a Communities in Schools site coordinator and a first-generation college student herself — had faced similar challenges. She’d been there.

Since evidence emerged in the mid-1990s of the significant positive impacts that professionally supported volunteer mentors can have on young people, the field has grown. With limited funding and largely grassroots efforts, the strategy reaches an estimated 4.5 million young people who have mentors through structured programs run by nonprofits, schools and community centers.

With a mentor, young people are more likely to stay in school, hold leadership positions, volunteer regularly, go to college and become mentors themselves.  One in three young people — representing nine million at-risk youth — recalled a time growing up when they didn’t have a mentor outside their family, but wished they did.

America needs smart, cost-effective and timely ways to level the playing field for students like Barahona who need extra support and guidance. If we fail to provide these things, we risk creating a generation of “lost Einsteins,” as experts on inequality have recently called them: young people brimming with potential to be high achievers but whose talents our nation will never see.

Read the full article about mentorship by David Shapiro at The Hechinger Report.