Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program
Strengthening Student Connections with School
by Linda Cantú, Ph.D.
Schools in Texas will lose almost half of their Hispanic, African American and Native American students between their freshman and senior year. In Arizona, 31.8 percent of students will not graduate (IDRA, 2002). California and has a graduation rate of 71 percent as reported by the Harvard Civil Rights Project (2005). Schools must make it a high priority to strengthen their student holding power. There are many reasons students leave school. Many of these reasons can be associated with a sense of disconnectedness from school.
School Connectedness Helps
A 2004 John Hopkins study concluded that 40 percent to 60 percent of all students feel chronically disengaged from school. The study also suggested that stronger ties with a caring adult would help reduce students’ risky behaviors and improve students’ academic achievement. (Blum and Libbey, 2004)
Students are more likely to succeed if they feel a connection to school. School connectedness refers to the belief by students that adults in the school care about their learning and about them as individuals. A positive relationship with one caring adult is one of the elements identified that helped students feel more connected. Research indicates that students who feel connected to school have increased school completion rates, reduced absenteeism and increased academic performance. According to Blum, from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, students need to be engaged in their own education, and that will make them want to be part of the school. (Blum and Libbey, 2004)
Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program Provides Connectedness
The Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program identifies students who are considered to be at risk of dropping out and places them in a designated class where they become engaged in learning by tutoring younger children. The "tutees" develop a strong affection for their tutors. The elementary receiving teacher provides a welcoming environment. And a secondary teacher coordinator becomes the tutors’ school advocate.
An added benefit is that tutors recapture academic skills they may have forgotten or missed during their earlier school years. In the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program, tutors improve and contribute to their own education as well as to others. But most importantly, they find caring adults as well as young children who look forward to seeing them at school.
IDRA’s Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program is an internationally-recognized, dropout prevention program. The central feature is cross-age tutoring by middle school and high school students for elementary school youngsters who are also struggling in school. Given this role of personal and academic responsibility, the Valued Youth tutors learn self-discipline and develop self-esteem. Schools shift to the philosophy and practices of valuing students considered at-risk.
The primary goal of the program is to keep students in school. When the program is implemented as designed, results show that tutors stay in school, have increased academic performance, have improved school attendance and advance to higher education.
The program consists of five core components: (1) tutoring, (2) classes for tutors, (3) field trips, (4) role models/community leaders, and (5) student recognition events. In addition to these core components that provide the programmatic part of the program, tutors can also participate in (6) leadership days and (7) opportunities for increased technology awareness and utilization.
Through the program, IDRA also provides a support component comprised of: (1) curriculum, (2) family involvement, (3) staff development, (4) coordination, and (5) evaluation (see box on Page 20).
Additionally, students participate in Youth Leadership Days held by the district or sometimes held regionally at local colleges and universities. Tutors from different schools meet each other and recognize there are many different students in the program contributing to their communities and schools by being tutors. They participate in personal awareness activities, team-building activities and leadership activities that enhance their presentation, communication and decision-making skills.
Tutors also participate in video conferencing with students from other cities. They have an opportunity to experience technology with an academic purpose through e-mailing key pals, planning and presenting in front of a camera and audience, and using the most advanced technology in video conferencing.
Quantitative and qualitative measures are used to gauge student progress in the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program. Students are evaluated by classroom teachers at both elementary and secondary campuses. Evaluations include field-based observations of, for example, how tutors interact with their tutees and how they follow their teacher’s directions in working with the students.
Surveys are given to students, parents and teachers at the beginning of the year and at the end. Students complete journal entries, which are opportunities for reflection during the school year. Students’ demographic data, end of course grades, standardized test scores, absences and disciplinary referrals are collected at the beginning and end of the project year for all participants. IDRA’s evaluation is on a secured web site.
In the 2005-06 program year, the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program was in 96 middle and elementary schools in the United States (Arizona, California, Florida, Michigan, Oregon and Texas) and the country of Brazil. For the period of 2003 to 2006, the overall dropout rate among tutors in the United States was 0.8 percent. For the period of 2003 to 2005, the overall dropout rate among tutors in Brazil was 2.5 percent.
In 2005-06 nationally, there were 2,104 students (526 tutors and 1,578 tutees) in 53 schools in 13 school districts in 13 cities. In Brazil, there were 4,200 students (1,050 tutors and 3,150 tutees) participating in 43 schools in 17 cities in eight states.
Starting a Program
Participating districts and schools fund the program through district resources, such as Title I (Neglected and At-Risk Youth), Title III (Language Instruction for LEP Students), Title IV (Safe and Drug-Free Schools) and Title V (Innovative Programs) funds, as well as, forming a partnership with local businesses. In Texas, the high school allotment provided through Texas House Bill 1 for improving graduation rates and college readiness is a possible source.
IDRA provides training, technical assistance, online evaluation and materials for the program. School districts and campuses interested in implementing the program should contact Linda Cantú, project coordinator at IDRA (210-444-1710 or
Blum, R.W., and H.P. Libbey. "School Connectedness – Strengthening Health and Education Outcomes for Teenagers," Journal of School Health, Executive Summary?(September 2004).
Civil Rights Project – Harvard University. "Confronting the Graduation Rate Crisis in California," Executive Summary (March 24, 2005).
Intercultural Development Research Association. Stemming the Tide of Dropouts: An Action Agenda for Arizona (Phoenix, Ariz.: Arizona Minority Education Policy Analysis Center, May 2002).
Linda Cantú, Ph.D., is an education associate in the IDRA Division of Professional Development and director of the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program. Comments and questions may be directed to her via e-mail at
New Texas High School Allotment
In May, the Texas Legislature passed a measure to fund an initiative to prepare and graduate all Texas students from high school. These funds can be used for:
- College readiness programs to prepare underachieving students for college,
- Programs that encourage students toward advanced academic coursework,
- Programs that give students opportunities to take academically rigorous coursework, including four years of mathematics and science,
- Programs that align the curriculum for grades six through 12 with post-secondary curriculum, or
- High school completion and success initiatives in grades six through 12 as approved by the commissioner.
The Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program can be funded through the high school allotment. In addition, the program is approved by the Texas State Board of Education as an innovative course, and the Texas Education Agency lists the program as an approved innovative course on its web site. The course provides ½ credit per semester for a total of one credit. To find out about the program, contact Dr. Linda Cantú, program coordinator at IDRA (210-444-1710 or
Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program Thrives in Brazil
The Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program began in 1984 in the United States. Now in its 23rd year, the program continues to work dramatically for students across the country. The program also has expanded to Brazil, where during the last six years it has impacted Brazilian students’ lives as well.
The Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program in Brazil began with two schools in 1999 and has grown to 42 schools in 17 cities in the 2005-06 school year. During 2005-06, there were 4,200 students (1,050 tutors and 3,150 tutees) participating in eight states in Brazil. The program has had many successes for each child.
One fun story involves the World Cup. The Coca-Cola Enterprise’s "Take this Flag" initiative invited teenagers from 23 countries to attend the World Cup Soccer competition held in Germany in June 2006. The Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program in Brazil sponsored a writing competition asking students to respond to the question, "Why do you deserve to be the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program representative at the World Cup?" Aliny is a 12-year-old from Cuiabá whose writing piece was one of the top three selected in Brazil. Tutors were then asked to vote for one of the top three. Aliny won the vote from her peers as the tutor to represent them.
The Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program in Brazil then sent Aliny (pictured above) and her mother to Germany to attend the event with all expenses paid by the Coca-Cola Company. This is another way in which Coca-Cola Brazil demonstrates its commitment to support tutors who are working hard. Aliny’s adventure made news in many Brazil newspapers.
Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program Elements
Five Instructional Strategies
Tutors tutor a minimum of four hours a week for one class period a day.
Classes for Tutors
Tutors meet with their secondary school teacher coordinator once a week.
Educational Field Trips
Tutors go on at least two to three trips to explore career, economic and cultural opportunities.
Mentor and Role-Models
Adults who are considered successful in their fields and who represent students’ ethnic background are invited to participate.
Students are acknowledged for the efforts and contributions they make as tutors.
Five Support Strategies
The objectives of the curricular framework are to improve students’ self-concept, tutoring skills and literary skills.
Periodic meetings are held to coordinate all activities, facilitate communication among personnel and provide first-hand information for monitoring the program.
Training and technical assistance is provided to implementation team administrators and teachers.
The program demonstrates to families that the school takes their children’s education seriously and values the families’ contributions.
IDRA analyzes data and other information for each school to inform implementation of the program.
For more information on the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program, contact IDRA at 210-444-1710,
or visit us online at www.idra.org.
[©2006, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Every effort has been made to maintain the content in its original form. However, accompanying charts and graphs may not be provided here. To receive a copy of the original article by mail or fax, please fill out our information request and feedback form. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]