• by Josie Danini Cortez, M.A. • IDRA Newsletter • August 2000 • Josie Cortez Josie Danini Supik, M.A.

In 1996, Lincoln Multicultural Junior High School in Washington, D.C., was facing the same daily challenges that most urban schools face: violence, high poverty, lack of resources, high density, etc. It was in transition with new leadership at the helm. To add to the complexity, the school faced beginning the school year without books for its students. The U.S. Congress had not agreed on a budget, and with its continuing resolution, some budgets were paralyzed, including the D.C. Public Schools budget, which must be approved by Congress. That meant vendors could not be paid upon delivery of services and the book vendor was unwilling to take the risk (after the onslaught of bad press, the vendor finally relented after school began).

In the midst of such difficulties, school staff were anxious to find a solution to high absenteeism, disciplinary action rates, and dropout rates; and low self-esteem and achievement scores for so many of its students. D.C. Public Schools staff learned about the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program developed by the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA). The program would not solve everything. But it could make a positive difference in their students’ lives.

Since 1984, the program has had clear evidence of success across the country with students who were often described as the “throwaways” – students who were minority, from high poverty families, often mobile, retained at least once, considered “low achievers” and had low self-esteem; students who would most likely drop out of school unless someone intervened.

Staff decided they would intervene with the IDRA Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program beginning in January 1996. Together with two partner elementary schools, IDRA and The Coca-Cola Foundation began a three-year partnership of support.

Throughout the life of the program, IDRA would provide a full range of training, technical assistance, evaluation and support materials needed to preserve the integrity of the program. IDRA’s ongoing evaluation would provide insights into the program’s impact on the valued youth tutors – what worked best during the school year and what aspects of the program needed to be strengthened for subsequent years. The school system would provide the support needed to ensure the program’s success including release time for a teacher coordinator to work with the tutors, recognition events for the students, and timely data collection for the evaluation.

Three years later, the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program has, in fact, made a positive difference in many lives. Each year, all of the valued youth tutors in Washington, D.C., remained in school – a remarkable achievement.

The Essence of the Program

The IDRA Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program takes middle and high school students who are considered to be in at-risk situations, and places them in positions of responsibility, tutoring elementary school students for one class period a day, four days a week. The fifth day is dedicated to strengthening their own tutoring skills, literacy, self-esteem and leadership. The program’s research-based instructional and support strategies strengthen the philosophical base and basic premise – that all students are valuable, none is expendable.

The program is flexible, readily adaptable to individual contexts. But, research has shown that certain elements are critical, such as paying tutors for the work they do or having experienced content area teachers serve as the program’s teacher coordinators. (The essence of the program and its results are summarized in the box below.)

The Evaluation of the Program

These are the essential elements by which IDRA and the participating schools, hold themselves accountable. These elements are also the drivers for the evaluation design – one of the most rigorous and comprehensive in the country. The pre- and post-test design includes quantitative and qualitative measures, including standardized and validated pre- and posttest instruments and classroom observations. The hard numbers only tell part of the story; qualitative measures help tell the rest of the story of impact – measures such as tutors’ monthly journals and participant interviews.

IDRA developed a report to do justice to the extraordinary commitment of individuals, adults and youth, who participated in a program allowing them to make a positive difference in more than 300 young lives in D.C. public schools.

The Program’s School Support

Over the three years, IDRA and The Coca-Cola Foundation provided extraordinary support for the D.C. public schools. In addition to the program materials (implementation guides, tutor workbooks, evaluation instruments, reports, etc.), IDRA increased its technical assistance to the school each year: from 20 consultant days to 40 days to a staggering 104 days the third year. This does not include all of the off-site consultation and program coordination activities conducted by IDRA staff. Likewise, Mr. Enrique Watson, the principal, and Mr. Courtney Adams, the school’s teacher coordinator, showed extraordinary commitment to the program’s success, always making the time for the tutors, juggling schedules, resolving conflicts, and celebrating successes.

The Tutors

A total of 63 tutors participated in the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program at Lincoln Multicultural Junior High School. During the first two years, the tutors were eighth graders. Seeing a need for earlier intervention, Lincoln Multicultural included 10 seventh graders during the third year.

About, one-half of the tutors were Hispanic; one-third were African American; the rest were Asian American or non-Hispanic Whites. Of those students reporting, all were eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. One-third of the tutors also qualified for Title I. Half had participated in bilingual education or English as a second language (ESL) programs. Interestingly, only three of those reporting had been retained in grade (in other program school sites, more tutors have a history of retention). Many of the Hispanic tutors were bilingual and used their bilingualism with the tutees, helping them understand the content in their native language.

Tutoring in the Classroom

Empirical research on the program has found that three tutees per tutor is the recommended ratio. This maximizes impact for the tutor and tutee as well as providing the opportunity for the tutor-tutee bond to form – a critical aspect of the program’s success. Most of the tutors at Lincoln Multicultural Junior High School worked with one or two tutees.

Tutors worked with tutees primarily in mathematics and language arts. The elementary school teachers consistently reported that the tutors were actively involved with the tutees in the learning process, that they listened to the tutees, were patient with them, spoke comfortably in English and Spanish (as needed), understood the material to be taught, had appropriate learning expectations of their tutees, and were always excited about the tutoring and seeing their tutees and the elementary school teacher. They also reported that the tutees, in turn, listened to the tutors, also participated in the learning process and looked to their tutors for guidance.

Tutors’ Successes: Achievement

The IDRA Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program is designed primarily to keep students in school who once were considered being in at-risk situations. The program does this by making school meaningful for them, by providing an opportunity for them to contribute and by making a difference in younger students’ lives. With a growing sense of responsibility and pride, positive recognition and instruction, tutors stay in school and succeed. The Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program helped 63 tutors at Lincoln Multicultural Junior High School stay in school by providing them with the opportunity to help others. This, in and of itself, is a major achievement. But there is more.

For students to maintain their average grades during the turbulent middle school years is an accomplishment. For students to exceed this is extraordinary. For example, during 1996-97, tutors at Lincoln Multicultural Junior High School maintained their average mathematics grade. Yet three tutors distinguished themselves by raising their averages: from a D+ to a B+, from a D to a B-, and from a C- to a B. To increase their averages one to two letter grades after only one semester of intervention is a major achievement.

The same phenomenon occurs for tutors’ average grades in English. For most the average grade is maintained, but several tutors increased their average grades from a C to an A-, from a D- to a B and from a D+ to an A-.

During the first program year at Lincoln Multicultural Junior High School, there was no statistically significant difference between the pre- and post- tutors’ average number of disciplinary action referrals. This is understandable given that their average at the beginning of the year was 0.2. The average number of days absent also remained the same, with the beginning average at 10.2. Importantly, the qualitative data present an overwhelmingly positive picture of impact for the tutors as was evident in their monthly journals and case study interviews.

The second program year had greater successes for tutors with similar academic achievement trends as the year before. What was noteworthy the second year is that even more tutors excelled academically, bringing up their average grades, in some cases from F’s to A’s and B’s. Their average disciplinary action referrals also showed a statistically significant decrease from 1.7 to 0.3 (p .01).

The third program year showed the greatest impact. Tutors raised their average grades in mathematics and English three and four letter grades: from F’s and D’s to B’s and A’s. Average disciplinary action referrals decreased significantly from 7.8 to 1.3 days (p .001). Individual successes included tutors decreasing their referrals from 20 to zero, 20 to three and 12 to one. The average number of days absent decreased from 16 to nine. Although not statistically significant, for many tutors and their tutees, it was personally significant that they were in school more often the third program year. One tutor decreased the number of days absent from 40 to five days; another went from 30 days to one day absent.

Tutors’ Successes: New Vistas

One of the other benefits of the IDRA Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program is the opening of new vistas for the tutors. This usually happens through the program’s field trips and guest speakers. Tutors get to visit new places and hear from people who may have started where the tutors are now and who have achieved personal and professional successes. Tutors at Lincoln Multicultural Junior High School were able to visit the MCI Center in Washington, D.C.; the Shenandoah Mountains in West Virginia; and the U.S. Capitol. Most of these places were only a few miles from their neighborhoods. But, until their involvement with the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program, they may as well have been in another universe.

The Lincoln Multicultural Junior High School tutors also served as hosts to tutors from South San Antonio High School and Kazen Middle School – schools in the South San Antonio Independent School District (ISD). In December 1998, Southwest Airlines began a direct flight from San Antonio to Baltimore-Washington. To inaugurate the flight, Southwest Airlines and The Coca-Cola Foundation sponsored a trip for San Antonio valued youth tutors and their chaperones. For three days, tutors toured the major D.C. historical sites such as the Lincoln monument, the Korean War and Vietnam War memorials, and the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. They rode the Metro (the first subway ride for most) and even had a private, guided tour of the White House arranged by Texas Congressman Ciro Rodríguez.

Taking full advantage of their time together, IDRA planned and conducted a Valued Youth Leadership Day to give the tutors a chance to exercise their innate leadership skills, share their experiences as tutors, share their challenges and successes with their tutees, and share their hopes and aspirations for their lives. These experiences will last long after the last tutor has graduated from high school and college.

Perhaps one of the most exciting journeys for the tutors was through cyberspace. During the second program year, IDRA, with support from The Coca-Cola Foundation, connected the Lincoln Multicultural Junior High School youth tutors with tutors from Brownsville ISD, a large school district in the valley and border region of Texas via video conference. Extensive coordination by IDRA collaborating with the school systems resulted in tutors first “meeting” each other as “key pals” (e-mail pen pals) and culminating in a cross-country video conference.

In preparing for their video conference, tutors strengthened their oral language, writing and presentation skills. They also enhanced their knowledge of technology, searching the Internet for information about their sister cities. Tutors’ increasing knowledge of technology and their access to video conferencing was a tremendous opportunity, one not experienced by their peers or even many of their teachers.

Tutors’ Successes: A Public Forum

On May 18, 1999, Mr. Courtney Adams, and two seventh-grade tutors, Mr. Marcus Price and Ms. Anna Rosario, did something that had never been done by any member of the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program network. These representatives of Lincoln Multicultural Junior High School testified before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions on “Dropout Prevention and Educating the Forgotten Half.” The Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program was one of only four national programs highlighted.

This teacher and valued youth students from the D.C. Public Schools spoke eloquently and passionately about the impact of the program on lives – theirs and others. The significance of this event cannot be underestimated. In their own voices, a teacher and two students spoke of their success and achievement, of what is possible. Their testimony is a tribute to the success and achievement that D.C. Public Schools made possible.

Tutors’ Successes: Personal Victories

Each of the valued youth tutors succeeded in ways that are, in fact, immeasurable: bringing pride to their families when their experience with the school had been one of concern and worry; bringing their insights, compassion and intelligence to their tutees who now had someone to listen to them, someone who understood them better than anyone else; and bringing higher expectations to their teachers who once saw them as troublemakers or lost causes and now saw them as invaluable young people.

Some of these successes are captured in the tutors’ monthly journals and case study interviews. These data, in the tutors’ own voices, speak to the power of a program that mobilizes school staff and brings out the best, the most valued essence, of students, families and educators. The following is one tutor’s story as documented through an end-of-year interview.

“Emilio” is a 14-year-old eighth grader at Abraham Lincoln Multicultural Junior High School in Washington, D.C. He was born in Nicaragua, and he and his family immigrated to the United States four years ago. Emilio, his mother, father, and 12-year-old brother have lived in Washington, D.C., since they first arrived in this country. Emilio says that he learned to speak English after he arrived and was placed in bilingual and ESL classes in school.

He does not know his parents’ levels of educational attainment, but he says that his mother babysits during the day, and his father works at Georgetown University, as well as at a second job. He says they want him to go to college and pursue a career. Emilio says he has always wanted to finish high school in order to have a career and money. He thinks he would like to go to Georgetown University and study medicine.

When asked if the program has brought about any change in his life, Emilio responds:

Yeah, a lot. When I first came here, I was lost. Then my teacher got me into the program, and it got better. I got better in my classes and I’m getting better grades. I’m not chasing that many girls, like my teacher says. I’m not having that many problems now, and I do my work in class.

Emilio says that the program has helped to change his behavior at home as well: “I used to act rude with my brother and now I try to talk to him so that he won’t do bad things.”

His role as a tutor does not end when he leaves the elementary school, because he tutors at home: “I am trying to teach my mom English. And, I’m teaching my brother, too, because he knows a little bit, but he needs to know more.”

With regard to how he feels about himself, Emilio says: “I feel better now. Before the program, I felt lost. Before, I hung out with gangster people, but now I don’t anymore.”

Emilio tutors four students in the first and second grades. He says he will most remember that his tutees made him laugh. One of the things he says he will remember most about the program is that he got to spend time helping children and he got paid for it. Emilio says he does not think he would have initially enrolled in the tutoring program if a stipend were not provided. However, he feels differently now, and he would continue to tutor even if he did not get paid.

When asked how his family feels about the program, Emilio says, “My parents think the program has changed me a lot and they like it because now I get home early, I don’t leave the house anymore, and now I do my homework at home.”

Emilio says some of his friends are not as positive about the program:

Some of them think it’s alright, but some others think that I’m beginning to be different, because now I’m not the Emilio that I used to be – I have changed a lot. They tell me that I’m not the real Emilio. But, I don’t care. I want to be the best. I like this Emilio.

As a result of his own transformation, Emilio says he wants his tutees to remember most that “people change.” He adds:

I have a tutee named Arnold and he says that when he grows up he wants to be by himself and live in the streets and be a gangster. I told him that he needs to be at home with his mom, help her work, get his high school diploma, go to college, and work.

Emilio feels that the program has made a tremendous impact on his life. He does not think he could have made it through the eighth grade without the program because it “helped me to get better grades and do my work; the other Emilio never came to class and didn’t do any work.”

As a result of his experience, Emilio says that he would teach his own children: “how to respect people, to learn, and to go to school. They have to do better things than I did. If I do well, they will have to do great.”

 In the Final Analysis

The Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program made a significant difference in students’ lives. Students achieved academically and personally. They stayed in school, gave of themselves and in doing so, found their contributions valued and recognized, sometimes by those who had lost hope. The words of one tutor say much:

Some teachers here say: ‘You know, Michael, you’re gonna have to stay back in the eighth grade. You’ll have no chances, nothing.’ And then when this program came along, everything started changing. Now, teachers have hope that I might make it and so do I.

These testimonials, coupled with the increases in grade averages and decreases in disciplinary action referrals and absenteeism, point to an unequivocal conclusion – the valued youth of Abraham Lincoln Multicultural Junior High School succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations.

For more information about the IDRA Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program visit www.idra.org or contact Linda Cantu, M.A., at IDRA (210-444-1710).

IDRA Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program

Essence of Program

  • Cross-age tutoring (ongoing, sustained relationship; small ratio; ample age and grade level difference; appropriate instructional level).
  • Direct rewards given to tutors.
  • Adults who directly value and work with and/or supervise students.
  • Cross-level coordination.
  • Accountability (assessment and evaluation).
  • Planned instructional tasks (interaction between tutors and tutees).
  • Tutors do not lose academic credit for participating in the program.
  • Program acknowledges, celebrates and utilizes linguistic and cultural strengths.
  • Elementary teachers want the tutors in their classrooms, understand their role, provide positive feedback, and monitor activities.
  • Voluntary and willing participation by all.
  • Regular class for tutors.
  • Regular, consistent and predictable tutoring.
  • Student-centered curriculum for tutors: tutoring, literacy and sense of self.
  • Strengthened students’ support network including families.

Essence of Results

  • Children stay in school.
  • Children are more successful in school.
  • Increased sense of self; expanded vision of their future.
  • Connection to school; belongingness.
  • Adult valuing of children; increased valuing; renewed perceptions.

Josie Danini Cortez, M.A., coordinates IDRA’s materials development. Comments and questions may be directed to her via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©2000, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the August 2000 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.]