• by Linda Cantu, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • November-December 2015 •

Dr. Linda CantuAs a nation, we need our children to be successful in school, to graduate, and to have options to attend college. We need this for all of our children not just a select few. It’s not uncommon when school policies and systems slip into a pattern of operating from a student deficit frame that begins with assumptions of what students appear to lack (e.g., motivation, capacity, intelligence), often due to underlying biases. These assumptions can inappropriately guide interactions between teachers and students and become a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure (Robledo Montecel & Bojorquez, 2015).

The IDRA Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program on the other hand has a different, and more true, approach to students, particularly to those who have been identified as being in at-risk situations. The program’s philosophy builds positive interactions between teachers and students. Activities that are the essence of the program give students an opportunity to grow their skills as students, contribute to their school and community, begin a process of examining their futures, and build skills and dreams that lead them there.

As educators we need to remember: “All students inherently have the ability to think critically, solve problems, interact socially and persist in tasks. They are creative and resilient. When the adults and institutions that surround them support, nurture and encourage these competencies with trust, high expectations and respect, students’ non-cognitive skills blossom.” (Avilés, 2015)

The IDRA Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program is an internationally-recognized, cross-age tutoring program with an unusual twist. This dropout prevention program works by identifying junior high and high school students who are in at-risk situations and enlisting them as tutors for elementary school youngsters who also are struggling in school. Given this role of personal and academic responsibility, the Valued Youth tutors learn self-discipline and develop self-esteem, and schools shift to the philosophy and practices of valuing students considered at-risk. Results show that tutors stay in school and have increased academic performance, improved school attendance and advanced to higher education.

The program’s instructional strategies and support strategies help schools successfully impact students in schools. The instructional strategies include: classes for tutors, tutoring sessions, educational field trips, mentors and role models, and student recognition. All of the strategies are important to helping the students improve academically, gain confidence and connect to school.

Three of the instructional strategies in particular help to reinforce a college-going philosophy and career goal environment. For the weekly classes for tutors, a tutor workbook highlights activities that help students plan for their future: graduation, college and career. The activities have students research and discuss how to get ready for career and college.

The role models are persons from various professional careers who talk to the students about how they entered their career and why. Guest speakers discuss the obstacles and factors that led to their success. Many of the guest speakers are from the students’ own communities, giving the students the awareness that these professionals are from “my” neighborhood.

The field trips are to nearby colleges and universities. Students participate in a Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program Leadership Day event at a nearby university. They sit in college classrooms engaging in activities focused on college and career. University leaders, such as vice presidents, college admissions staff and current college students, speak to the students about college. The tutors tour the campus and become familiar with the college environment. And they begin to develop a comfort level at the university, realizing it is within their reach.

Every year, schools that are implementing the IDRA Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program incorporate leadership, career awareness, and college and university field trips in their year-long activities. The colleges and universities are becoming active partners with our Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program sites. They host events, have college students lead leadership activities with tutors, and participate on panels to tell tutors who they are as college students and where they came from – many from their own neighborhoods.

In 2014-15, tutors from 19 of our Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program sites toured universities in their local communities. The colleges hosting these events were, in Texas: Palo Alto College (San Antonio), University of Texas – Rio Grande Valley (Edinburg), University of Texas Permian Basin and Texas Tech University. Additionally, tours for tutors were held by Lehman College in New York City; University of California Long Beach; Sacramento College; De Paul University (Chicago) and Wayne State University (Detroit). Many of our Coca-Cola VYP sites visit more than one college or university during the school year.

In a dramatic example, an official from the University of Texas – Permian Basin attended an Odessa High School Leadership Day or end-of-year event and awarded each of the high school students who went on the tour a $500 scholarship to enroll at the university. The UTPB president has often attended these events to give encouragement and stress higher education as part of tutors’ futures.

Many of the tutors in the IDRA Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program will be the first in their families to attend college or to even believe college is part of their future. For many young people, the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program has been the first time they have been identified and gotten support and encouragement from someone in their schools to look at higher education for themselves. Stepping on a college campus, in a college classroom, in college hallways, and walking side-by-side with college students has given them an opportunity to see that it is possible and that they are capable.


Avilés, N. “For School and College Success – The Power of Non-cognitive Skills,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, October 2015).

IDRA. “Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program Dropout Prevention that Works“, (August 11, 2015).

Linda Cantu, Ph,D, is a senior education associate in IDRA’s Departments of Student Access and Success, and Education Transformation and Innovation. Comments and questions may be directed to her via email at linda.cantu@idra.org.

[©2015, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the November – December 2015 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.]