• by Linda Cantu, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • May 2014 • Dr. Linda Cantu

As IDRA’s Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program has been celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, we have been highlighting milestones and creating new memories. South San Antonio ISD hosted a visit to the program at South San Antonio High School so that guests could see tutors as they worked with their younger tutees. Two Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program tutors were interviewed by the media about how they felt the program was helping them. Michaela Valdez, a 15-year-old who tutors three kindergarten students, said she had been failing algebra, performing poorly on standardized tests and struggling to adapt to high school. But then she was recommended for the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program. “Michaela fell in love with tutoring… She found the motivation to pull up her grades because she wanted to be a good role model” (Vara-Orta, 2014).

Norma de Hoyos, a third-grade teacher, spoke about the 14-year-old tutor in her classroom, Nicholas Alderete, saying that when Nicholas enters her class each day “the students get excited because they feel cool getting to hang out with a teenager” (Vara-Orta, 2014).

The Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program is a research-based, internationally-recognized dropout prevention program that has kept 98 percent of its tutors in school. Created by IDRA, it is a cross-age tutoring program that identifies middle and high school students who are in at-risk situations and enlists them as tutors for elementary school students who are also struggling in school. Results show that tutors stay in school, have increased academic performance, improve school attendance and advance to higher education.

The program has helped more than 33,000 students, young people who were previously at risk of dropping out. The lives of more than 787,000 children, families and educators have been positively impacted by the program in cities across the United States and in Brazil, Puerto Rico and the United Kingdom.

For the 2013-14 school year, IDRA implemented the program in three new school districts: Chicago Public Schools, Los Angeles Unified School District and New York City Public Schools. Detroit Public Schools and a district in Sacramento will be starting programs in the next school year.

The school leaders at Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program sites are helping students do better in school because they provide them an opportunity to become involved in the education of younger children, which in turn improves their own academic skills as they tutor. Their attendance and behavior improves, and their grades improve. Additionally, they start feeling more connected to their school. Their teachers and classmates begin to see them differently, and they get recognized for their contribution as tutors.

At an event in February, South San Antonio ISD also was recognized for its 30th year implementing the program, and La Joya ISD for its 21st year anniversary. School district administrators, teachers, students, parents and San Antonio city officials attended the event, as well as many current and former tutors. And representing the Coca‑Cola Company San Antonio PAC, Luisa Casso joined us for the reception.

For this year’s anniversary celebration, we were honored to have a dramatic presentation called, “When the kids see us coming, they start calling my name,” during which current tutors read excerpts from essays written by other tutors over the years about how the program has affected their lives and their tutees. The excerpts were selected by distinguished authors: San Antonio Poet Laureate, Carmen Tafolla; Texas State Poet Laureate, Rosemary Catacalos; and author, historian, and retired educator, J. Gilberto Quezada.

They read comments from Lanala Hayes, a former tutor in Houston ISD: “Like the first rocket to land on the moon, something changed. I was a kid with no thought of what I would be doing after high school, a kid who didn’t care about my grades. Just like a flower trying to stay nourished in a desert or a flower trying to bloom in concrete, it seemed impossible. But soon enough the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program helped to change me.”

Among the other excerpts was this by Andre Merritt, a former tutor in North Carolina: “Every day, I saw Lloyd and treated him the way I wanted to be treated when I was his age. He saw himself as a nobody, a failure, even a mistake. I made sure that by 9:10, he felt like a somebody, and a winner, and a blessing. I made sure that I encouraged him to never give up and to always do your best, no matter what. I am grateful that I could make a difference in the lives of our future generation because they have certainly made a difference in mine.”

Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program tutors are also exposed to new opportunities through educational field trips and guest speakers. Tutors go on college and university tours and learn about college life and its possibilities in their future. Leadership days are held at universities so that students can experience being in a classroom setting an entire day. These opportunities demystify college for students. It isn’t just a building they drive by occasionally but a place that becomes familiar to them. At one such tour for Odessa High School tutors visiting the University of Texas in the Permian Basin, faculty from the admissions office and the president’s office came to meet and speak to the students. The president’s office offered all of the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program tutors who were seniors a $500 scholarship if they attend their university.

At the anniversary reception in February, a special guest, Pablo López, spoke about how the program impacted him. López was a Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program tutor in Brownsville ISD 20 years ago and is currently an investigator at the University of Texas at Pan American. He said: “A long, long time ago, I was a kid with a dream. The more I thought about that dream, the harder it seemed I would be able to achieve it. Then one day I was given an opportunity to be part of the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program… Now, I’ve been a police officer for 12 years. I married my junior high sweetheart. I have two beautiful babies who see me as a hero. But little do they know that they are my inspiration, just like my tutees were 20 years ago. I want to say congratulations to the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program’s 30th anniversary of changing lives and in molding these tutors of today to be leaders of the future.”

The Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program continues to provide opportunities for students to succeed in school and graduate. More information about the program is available online (www.idra.org) or by contacting IDRA (210-444-1710; contact@idra.org). IDRA’s Classnotes Podcast also features highlights from the student presentations, Mr. López speech, and the Art of Writing panel with tips for teachers (www.idra.org/resource_center_categories/classnotes-podcast/).


Escamilla, R. “San Antonio national dropout prevention role model,” News 4 San Antonio (WOAI) (February 12, 2014).

López, P., & B. Scott. “They start calling my name (on being a Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program tutor),” – Podcast Episode 135

Tafolla, C., & J.G. Quezada, L. Posner. “The Art of Writing – Tips for Teachers Part 2,” – Podcast Episode 137

Tafolla, C., & J.G. Quezada, L. Posner. “The Art of Writing – Tips for Teachers Part 1,” – Podcast Episode 136

Vara-Orta,F. “South San ISD student mentoring program draws national attention,” San Antonio Express-News (February 13, 2014).

Linda Cantu, Ph.D., is a senior education associate in IDRA Field Services. Comments and questions may be directed to her via email at feedback@idra.org.

[©2014, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the May 2014 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.]