• By Felix Montes, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • October 2009

The Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program achieved its 25th anniversary this year. With its less than 2 percent annual dropout rate (in schools with dropout rates often exceeding 40 percent), it has been heralded as a most successful dropout prevention program. This article explores five primary reasons for this outstanding accomplishment in the context of the student-school relationship.

The importance of meaning in our lives is well understood. Meaning is often connected to our relationships with our surroundings, our work, our peers, and our family. In the school environment, meaning is connected to friends, family, teachers, and staff. To understand the dropout phenomenon, it is essential to understand the nature of the relationship between students and their school community.

Children are naturally curious and eager to participate in school early in life. They look forward to the experience of being with other children, exploring and experimenting. Why then would some later leave the school? There may be many reasons, but one thing is certain – their relationship with the school environment changed. It no longer provides that rich source of meaning to their lives that it once did.

One of the important causes for the success of the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program in increasing school holding power is that it re-establishes that primordial student-school relationship. The program brings back that initial sense of discovery, that desire of working with others in a learning community, that original confidence that they are important in this environment, that initial desire to go back to school every day because that is where substantial meaning is derived.

How does this program achieve such a feat? What elements of the program repair the fabric of the school-student relationship? There are five primary and five supporting reasons that explain this effect. In this article, I will explore the five primary reasons based on extensive research conducted in 1989. The study used a longitudinal, quasi-experimental design with data collected for the treatment and comparison group students before tutoring began, during implementation, and at the end of the first and second program years (Cárdenas, et al., 1992).

At the heart of the program is the tutoring sessions (IDRA, 1990). Through these sessions, which occur four times a week often as an elective or state-credit course, students who have received frequent negative feedback about their efficacy, come to recognize that they have something valuable to offer. As they see their tutees – younger students from kindergarten to fifth grade – improve their alphabet knowledge, colors, reading and math, the tutors realize that they are a positive element in the school. Tutoring requires them to review basic concepts they might have missed. Now they have an important reason to learn them well, the little ones are counting on them as they often say.

The program provides the structure for this learning process through its second component: classes for tutors. These classes are not classes in the traditional sense. Tutors meet as peers to review how their tutoring sessions are progressing. Through teacher coordinator facilitation, they share the surprises, frustrations, enjoyment and difficulties of tutoring. They learn from each other, exchanging tips on things that work and those to avoid. At its core, the classes for tutors are designed to develop critical thinking skills using tutoring as the backdrop. These higher-order thinking skills are on the levels of analyses, evaluation and creation in the Bloom’s revised taxonomy. Through an interactive and student-centric approach, the tutors understand the strategies they should use to help the younger students learn and how to evaluate the results of their tutoring on a continuous basis. Since the program’s inception, the classes have had three basic objectives: (1) develop tutoring skills to enable them to become successful student tutors; (2) develop a sense of self-awareness, self-confidence, self-efficacy, and pride in their success as students and tutors; and (3) improve literacy skills and any other academic skills they might need to be good tutors.

As the tutoring establishes a strong bond between the tutors and their tutees, the classes for tutors re-establish a bond among the tutors on a new, academic foundation. It also re-establishes the bond between the students and the school, as they see the teacher coordinator on their side helping them with their delicate task. They begin to understand the difficulties teachers go through as they gain a new appreciation for the school goals and the challenges the institution faces to achieve them. In this sense, the classes for tutors are a full internship experience. Tutors are treated as equals, like professionals. As such, they start improving their appearance and their behavior. They understand the importance of being on time and being prepared. They learn key elements of the teaching career, including the skill of developing lessons, selecting appropriate teaching activities and evaluating tutees’ progress.

Three other program components consolidate these new bonds and the re-establishment of the student-school relationship: student recognition, field trips, and role models. For recognition to have an impact, it has to be justified, frequent, and reasonable. The program acknowledges the tutors for their efforts and for the contributions they make as tutors throughout the year. The most important recognition tutors receive is the payment for tutoring, which is given in precise correspondence to the number of tutoring sessions provided, so they can see the direct result of their work. Tutors learn that these sessions not only have value for the younger students and for themselves, but also to society at large, since it is willing to pay for it.

In addition, tutors receive t-shirts, caps, certificates of merit and personal expressions of appreciation. They are invited to field trips, often with their tutees and parents. They are given talks by carefully selected role models. They receive media attention, as the program often is featured by local reporters. And at the end of the year, they are honored at a closing event. In many campuses, this is a schoolwide affair, in which teachers, parents and students participate to recognize the excellent work accomplished by the tutors.

The field trip and role model components accomplish other functions as well. Through the field trips, students step out of their traditional surroundings to explore new educational, cultural and economic opportunities. Field trips are taken to local universities, museums, businesses, or even amusement parks with educational value. Tutors research the institution prior to the trips. During the trips, they meet with the hosting institution managers or other employees. They ask questions derived from their research, often generating lively exchanges of information.

Role models provide tutors with a mirror of what they could become. Role models are successful people with similar socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds as the tutors. Tutors appreciate that someone like them can succeed in science, mathematics, engineering, law, medicine, journalism, and business – areas in which minorities are often underrepresented.

These components and other implementation resources are described in detail in a set of guides provided to schools that operate the program (see Robledo Montecel, et al., 2004).

In summary, the Coca-Cola Valued Program re-establishes the student-school relationship through a mindful implementation of five sound instructional strategies (tutoring, classes for tutors, student recognition, field trips, and role models) designed to value young people for what they can offer and to empower them to see what’s possible in their lives. Through this process, the students regain the original meaning associated with the school and can then visualize themselves as future successful professionals. Those instructional strategies can operate efficiently because the program also has a set of five support strategies (evaluation, family involvement, staff enrichment, curriculum, and coordination) that guide their implementation and monitoring and provide the needed feedback for their continuous improvement. These supporting strategies will be the topic of an upcoming article.


Cárdenas, J., M. Robledo Montecel, J. Supik and R. Harris. “The Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program: Dropout Prevention Strategies for At-Risk Students,” Texas Researcher (Winter 1992) Volume 3.

Intercultural Development Research Association. Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program: Important Information for Schools and Agencies One Step Away from Implementation (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 1990).

Robledo Montecel, et al. Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program Implementation Guides: Elementary Principal Guide; Elementary Teacher Guide; Evaluation Guide; Program Administrator Guide; Secondary Principal Guide (San Antonio, Intercultural Development Research Association, revised 2004).

Felix Montes, Ph.D., is an education associate in IDRA’s Support Services. Comments and questions may be directed to him via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©2009, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the October 2009 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. 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.]