• by Rogelio López del Bosque, Ed.D. • IDRA Newsletter • April 1999

For a second time, the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA) has held a series of live video conferences for 300 Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program tutors in 18 schools in 12 separate cities. The participation of this number of students could only happen by connecting students in four separate cities at a time.

It was all made possible by the efforts, cooperation and direct involvement of:

  • Universidad Autonoma de México in San Antonio;
  • University of Texas Pan America in Edinburg, Texas;
  • University of Texas at Brownsville;
  • ALCATEL Cable Company in Greenwich, England;
  • University of Texas Health and Science School in Houston;
  • Grady High School in Atlanta; and
  • East Birmingham College in Birmingham, England.

However, the students were responsible for the event’s success because of their liveliness, energy and pride. This cutting-edge use of technology proved to offer a unique learning experience for everyone involved.

The Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program, created by IDRA, is an internationally-recognized cross-age tutoring program. Since its inception in 1984, the program has kept more than 5,500 students in school, young people who were previously at risk of dropping out.

According to the Valued Youth creed, all students are valuable, none is expendable. This philosophy is helping more than 157 schools in 16 cities keep 98 percent of Valued Youths in school, keeping these young people in the classroom and learning.

The program is in schools in California; New Mexico; Illinois; Puerto Rico; Texas; and Washington, D.C., as well as Brazil and Great Britain. Given this global scene, we were excited to be able to bring together so many students at the same time to communicate in a matter of seconds. Many of the students communicated with each other via fax and as key pals (electronic pen pals) prior to the video conference. They then had the opportunity to meet each other live across state boundaries and the Atlantic Ocean through the video conferences.

The Video Conference Experience

As we started our video conference from each hosting city, the students exuded great warmth and pride in their cities, their schools and themselves as they made their introductions and welcomed students from the other sites. Some students went as far as to create sophisticated video tapes to be aired as part of their introduction. Students at one site in particular made their introduction in Spanish and in their Charro outfits as a means of pride in their city, heritage and language as well as in themselves and the program. A student from Birmingham, England – knowing that many of the tutors in Texas speak Spanish – introduced himself with a very warm, “Hola, como estan.”

The students took turns asking questions to their key pals. They had prepared their questions well beforehand. The questions varied, but most were about being in the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program and about their tutees (the younger students they tutor) as well as about their schools, hobbies and music (of course).

By watching the manner in which students came forth, asked questions and interacted with each other, observers would not have guessed that some of these students had been considered introverts or shy by their teachers. Perhaps this change can be attributed to the personal growth the students have experienced through the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program. Or maybe it was the fact that the video conferences were among the ways that the tutors are acknowledged and validated for their work and contribution.

Connecting in Great Britain

In the United States, the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program has been recognized as an exemplary program by the U.S. Department of Education’s Program Effectiveness Panel (for inclusion in the National Diffusion Network), the Corporation for National and Community Service, the Peter F. Drucker Foundation for Nonprofit Management, the Texas Education Agency, and the former US President George Bush, to name a few. IDRA has compiled numerous years of research showing what the program has done in the lives of thousands of students who at one time or another may have been considered to be a major problem for the school.

Three years ago, the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program was introduced to educators and community leaders in Great Britain. The nation’s Department for Education and Employment (DFEE) – the equivalent to the US Department of Education – has already recommended the program as an effective program for working with students considered at-risk of dropping out in England. Mr. Charles Clark, minister for school standards in the DFEE, has visited the school sites in Birmingham. He has praised the program and is recommending it to other schools. The Commission on Racial Equality has also recommended the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program as an effective program that reaches and positively impacts minority children.

The Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program has certain core elements that research has shown to be effective, it also incorporates support components that can be adapted to each school’s situation.

In England for example, the program focuses on students in behavioral centers who have already been “excluded” (expelled), particularly minority children. For them, the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program has opened a world of abilities, talents and accomplishments that participating students have never experienced before. Students in these centers often go on to the next level of schooling, but those who do not, leave with skills for tutoring, teaching and working with young children. For many students, validation of their abilities, field trips, role model speakers and even mentors has opened many doors.

Connecting with Students

In several participating schools, preliminary findings have already indicated that the program’s early intervention with these “excluded” students, along with other strong programs, has contributed to the decline of the exclusion rate as it has the dropout rate in the United States.

Based on IDRA’s research, the reasons for students’ dropping out have been:

  • academic failure,
  • financial need,
  • boredom,
  • personal problems, and
  • isolation.

The Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program’s answers to these are:

  • high expectations and high motivation,
  • academic success,
  • financial assistance,
  • belonging and contribution, and
  • inclusion.

The video conferences are an extension of this response in that they are designed to focus on the tutors and are conducted by the tutors themselves (Cantu and López-De La Garza, 1998). The video conferences also provide an experience of feeling special and of being acknowledged and recognized.

Since the tutors have much in common related to their tutoring, they also have much in common in terms of their lives. Actually, they are more alike than different across the country and across the ocean.

Many of the tutors do not start off with great test scores and grades. But most improve within a short period of time and are able to do work that was never expected of them by teachers.

Many tutors start the program with a poor self-concept. Then they are praised by the teachers and principals in the elementary schools because they are making the younger children smile, listen, learn and feel good about themselves too.

Many tutors start the program with poor language abilities. But they certainly do a tremendous job of teaching their tutees to do things their classroom teachers have not been successful with – even teaching reading and writing.

Many tutors start the program having financial difficulties and needing to have a job to help make ends meet. But now they are able to take pride in the fact that they are contributing to the household finances. They also take pride in being able to contribute small gifts to their tutees.

Many tutors start the program being considered at risk of dropping out or as disaffected youth. But they have a great sense of survival. (Anyone who has faced hardships, has had a poor self-concept for years and has been faced time and time again with those subtle and open expressions of low expectations has had to develop some mechanism to survive and hopefully overcome.)

Through the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program, the school captures the entire student. It finds those great qualities that we all have and uses them to facilitate the students’ contributing to themselves, the school and the community. Those qualities come out whether the community is in south Texas, Chicago or Great Britain. After all, “every child is valuable, none is expendable.”

Day One Video Conference Sites

  • Options in Education High School in McAllen, Texas
  • Greenwich Education Business Partnership, Greenwich, England (Abbey Wood School, Eagles Field School, Crown Woods School, Plumstead Manor Girls School, Kidbrook School)
  • Kazen Middle School, San Antonio
  • Kennedy Middle School in Atlanta (host site)

Day Two Video Conference Sites

  • East Birmingham College and Wake Green Center in Birmingham, England
  • South San Antonio High School in San Antonio
  • Stell Middle School in Brownsville, Texas
  • Benito Juarez High School, Chicago (host site)

Day Three Video Conference Sites

  • César Chávez Middle School in La Joya, Texas
  • Sheldon Heath and St. Albans Schools in Birmingham, England
  • Besteiro Middle School in Brownsville, Texas
  • H. P. Carter Career Center, Houston (host site)

Facts about the IDRA Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program

  • The Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program s currently in more than 159 schools in 16 cities across the United States (California, New Mexico, Washington, DC, Illinois and Texas) Puerto Rico, Great Britain and Brazil.
  • The program has maintained a less than 2 percent dropout rate for its participants for the last decade.
  • In the 1996-97 school year, less than 1.2 percent of Valued Youth tutors dropped out of school that year, compared to a 29.4 percent dropout rate for US Hispanic students and a 11 percent national dropout rate.
  • In a four-year tracking study of one school district in Texas, where the program is in place, 100 percent of the Valued Youth tutors graduated from high school, and 77.3 percent went on to college or technical school – compared to less than 6 percent of the US Hispanic student population who entered higher education during that time.
  • In several San Antonio independent school districts, the dropout rate among participants fell from 50 percent to 2 percent since the program was introduced.


Cantu, L. and L. López-De La Garza. “Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program Students Meet Peers Via Video Conference,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio: Intercultural Development Research Association, August 1998).

Rogelio López del Bosque, Ed.D., is the coordinator for professional development in the IDRA Division of Professional Development. Comments and questions may be directed to him via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©1999, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the April 1999 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.]