• IDRA Newsletter • October 2000 • 

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 95,000 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). 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 9,000 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.

One 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. 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.

In addition, the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program succeeds because it subtly but powerfully challenges and ultimately changes people’s beliefs and behaviors.

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.

Excerpted from a presentation by Dr. María Robledo Montecel, IDRA executive director, to the National Education Goals Panel Field Hearing in September. 

IDRA Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program – Philosophy

  1. All students can learn. This means all students: of all colors, of all languages, of all backgrounds, with or without designer clothes. All students can learn.
  2. The school values all students. There are no “throw-aways.” There are no students who are not important. All students are valuable.
  3. All students can actively contribute to their own education and to the education of others. Students are not passive vessels to which we give information. Not only are they active learners but they also can become teachers of others.
  4. All students, parents and teachers have the right to participate fully in creating and maintaining excellent schools. We are all partners in this. We all participate.
  5. Excellence in schools contributes to individual and collective economic growth, stability and advancement. Our sense, our philosophy is that we are all “at risk” as long as students are “at risk.” Different sectors in this country are realizing that. It is not only what happens to me as an individual when I drop out of school, it is what happens to us.
  6. Commitment to educational excellence is created by including students, parents and teachers in setting goals, making decisions, monitoring progress and evaluating outcomes. Excellence requires involving all of the players in deciding where we are going and how we are getting there and in monitoring how we are doing.
  7. Students, parents and teachers must be provided extensive, consistent support in ways that allow students to learn, teachers to teach and parents to be involved. Each of these groups needs each other and must support each other.

Comments and questions may be directed to IDRA via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

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