• by María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • October 2003
The Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program began in 1984 based on the creed that all students are valuable, none is expendable. This philosophy, that all students are valuable, is helping schools keep 98 percent of Valued Youths in school, keeping these young people in the classroom and learning.
In this program, IDRA works with schools to identify students who are considered to be in an at-risk situation and place them as tutors of younger students. Participating tutors have been the ones who traditionally receive help; never have they been asked to provide help. These were the “throwaways,” students who were not expected ever to graduate from high school. Yet, when given the appropriate structure, they can and do succeed. This program has made a visible difference in the lives of more than 136,000 children, families and educators.
The “valued youth” philosophy incorporates a series of premises: learning, valuing, contributing, participating, excelling, including and supporting. There are seven tenets to this philosophy (see box below). The key to the program’s success is in valuing students who are considered at risk of dropping out of school and sustaining their efforts with effective, coordinated strategies.
The program is flexible – readily adaptable to individual schools – but careful design and assessment have shown that certain elements are critical. When a school becomes part of the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program, the school agrees to implement critical elements and to adapt other elements based on local circumstances.
The Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program incorporates rigorous research and evaluation to identify the essential elements of the program, monitor program operations, develop corrective action, and document results.
Almost 12,000 Valued Youth have gone through the program. Tutors improve their grades, they show up in school more often and in the principal’s office less often, and they stay in school. The program has maintained a less than 2 percent dropout rate for the last decade. The program also benefits families by increased communication with schools and renewed family pride.
In addition, the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program succeeds because it subtly but powerfully challenges and ultimately changes people’s beliefs and behaviors. One administrator recounted her first experience with the program. She knew Paul Hayes* by his reputation as a student who “sent teachers into early retirement.”
She watched him get off the bus at the elementary school where he would tutor that day. She kept a vigilant eye on him as he entered the classroom and watched in amazement as he put on a hand puppet and began teaching three little ones.
What she saw in that classroom was “Mr. Hayes.” She saw Mr. Hayes’ students following his every word, and learning. And she heard the elementary teacher tell how she would be lost without Mr. Hayes in her classroom. As she watched him get back on the bus to his middle school, she hoped his teachers there would see the Mr. Hayes that was in him instead of only seeing Paul, the at-risk student.
Another tutor, Marcos, testified before a congressional committee last year. He said that after being in the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program, he cares about school, and he respects his teachers. He also told of one night when he saw one of his first grade tutees on the playground by himself at about 8:00 at night. Marcos took him to eat and then took him home. Marcos said, “I was worried that he was out there by himself and thought it was my responsibility to help him.”
Another tutor told us he is saving his wages from the program to purchase a headstone for his mother. She died recently, and there is no other way his family would be able to afford a headstone.
A philosopher once said, “The actual proves the possible.” The Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program works, as do other programs across the country based on valuing young people and their communities. All students can and are succeeding in some schools. It can happen in every school.
|IDRA Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program – Philosophy|
For more information on the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program, contact IDRA by phone at 210-444-1710, by e-mail at email@example.com or visit our web site at www.idra.org.
Excerpted from a presentation by Dr. María Robledo Montecel, IDRA executive director, to the National Education Goals Panel Field Hearing in September 2000. Comments and questions may be directed to her via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©2003, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the October 2003 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.]