5 Steps for Building & Strengthening Students’ Networks

Step 2. Shore Up Support Networks: Ensuring Every Student Has Access to a Web of Supportive Relationships

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Guiding questions:

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Search Institute researchers and practitioners have arrived at a surprisingly simple conclusion: nothing—nothing—has more impact in the life of a child than positive relationships.”


  • 1

    Building webs of support buffers risk.

  • 2

    Intentional efforts to address adverse life experiences with varied types of support may be necessary when social support is not enough.

  • 3

    Support can take many forms—emotional, informational, appraisal, and instrumental—all of which can promote student success in different ways.

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    Anchor relationships act as a gateway to a web of support.

  • 5

    “Close connector” mentors may have the greatest impact.

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    Providing support can have upsides for the “supporter” too.

Developing strong relationships involves compassion and investment. Not everyone in a web of support needs to have complete information, they just need to be invested in having a positive relationship.”

Joan Wasser-Gish, Director of Strategic Initiatives, Center for Optimized Student Support

If you’re trying to drive better academic outcomes and skills development → Keep educators in the wraparound services and basic needs loop:

If you’re introducing new staff or mentors into student support networks → Integrate a Critical Mentoring agenda into program design and training:

If you’re scaling student support structures → Build on existing advisory structures and peer-to-peer connections and cohorts:

If you’re supporting students in building their relationship skills → Empower them to lead conversations with their support networks:

If you’re struggling to connect the individuals within a student’s web of support → Build shared student profiles that sit alongside academic data:

If you’re determining how to identify and disseminate critical student information securely → Evaluate information to prioritize which individuals need to know what:

  • Connected Scholars arms college students with the agency and skills to build their own support networks in school.

    Connected Scholars is a research-informed course designed to meet the needs of high schools, colleges, and universities interested in implementing a mentoring program for its students. It specifically aims to equip low-income and first-generation college students. Instead of matching students with assigned mentors, students are trained to understand the value of building their social capital, then learn and practice networking and relationship-building skills to expand their networks. Read more here.

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    Evidence of impact
    Sample data collection strategy
  • This Way ONward combines webs of support and youth employment for first-time employees.

    Gap Inc.’s This Way ONward (formerly This Way Ahead) model offers on-ramps to paid work to young people who are low-income or currently disconnected from work or school. The program has deliberately constructed distinct but connected roles that its community partners, employees, and supervisors play to shore up a web of support around young, first-time store associates. All This Way ONward participants are paired with a job coach from a local nonprofit organization, an on-the-job “big sib,” a store leader, and a store manager. These individuals are all expected to communicate with one another in an effort to anticipate challenges and set young employees up for success. Read more here.

    evidence icon
    Evidence of impact
    Sample data collection strategy

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