The Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program is an internationally-recognized dropout prevention program developed by the Intercultural Development Research Association. The program works by identifying middle and high school students who are in at-risk situations and enlists them as tutors of elementary school children who are also struggling in school.
A middle school in south Texas took the program one step further and has involved its Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program tutors as representatives in their school’s student council.
Jerry de la Garza, a teacher at a middle school in South Texas and educator for 23 years, works today as a teacher of migrant students. He also is a student council sponsor and is the school’s teacher coordinator for the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program. The program at his campus is unique because it solely serves a migrant population. The community that surrounds the school consists primarily of low-income families.
The goal of the student council is to provide leadership development opportunities and to prepare and empower student leaders. In building a student council, school leaders generally select students who are academically successful, have good disciplinary records, are seen as good citizens and have excellent attendance.
Students identified as “at risk” normally are not seen as leaders or selected as student council representatives. But, like IDRA,teacher Jerry de la Garza believes that all students can be leaders. He gives his students opportunities, opens doors for them and never stops them from doing things they are interested in because they are identified as at risk.
In the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program, tutors work with their tutees during one class period each day, four days a week. Given this role of personal and academic responsibility, the tutors practice self-discipline and develop self-esteem, and schools shift to the philosophy and practices of valuing students considered at-risk of dropping out. Hence, Mr. de la Garza gave his Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program students the opportunity to become student council members. Students in his program also are involved in athletics, mariachi, choir, dance and band.
Mr. de la Garza explains: “Being involved in the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program and student council leads students into success. This is why the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program students are given the opportunity to be in student council and to go on field trips and conventions. They become successful leaders who represent the campus. Being in student council has helped the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program students because it impacts and changes their lives and they become successful leaders.”
A research study on the benefits of students participating in extracurricular activities shows that students develop more positive attitudes toward school, better academic achievement and higher self-concept. The findings also demonstrate that, while participating in extracurricular activities, students increase their overall school involvement, which leads to development of more positive attitudes toward school and toward learning. Furthermore, data analyses show that underachievers benefit more from their participation and lower the probability of students dropping out (Peixoto, 2004).
In the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program, results show that tutors stay in school, perform academically, improve school attendance and advance to higher education. Additionally, as part of the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program, students participate in field trips to colleges and universities and are involved in leadership activities that connect them to other tutors around the United States. The teacher coordinator selected for the program is key to developing a positive atmosphere for students, helping students become successful and positive leaders, opening doors for them and helping other teachers to see their potential. Of students who participate in the program, 98 percent stay in school and progress to the next grade.
Mr. de la Garza would like for students considered at risk to be given the opportunity to blossom because they have the same potential that other students do. “Do not close the door to these students,” he says.
In essence, the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program teacher coordinator is an advocate and mentor for the tutors. Jerry de la Garza personifies this role. Because of his leadership and vision, the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program tutors in this South Texas school have an expanded vision of life and see themselves as successful and positive leaders.
Peixoto, F. “What Kinds of Benefits Students Have From Participating in Extracurricular Activities?” Paper presented at the Proceedings Third International Biennial SELF Research Conference (Berlin, Germany, July 3-7, 2004).
To hear more, listen to the Classnotes Podcast interview of Mr. de la Garza online at www.idra.org.
Linda Cantú, Ph.D., is an IDRA education associate. Juanita C. García, Ph.D., is an IDRA education associate. Comments and questions may be directed to them via e-mail at email@example.com.
[©2008, IDRA. The following article originally appeared in the April 2008 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.]