“Pre-kinder kids calling me ‘Ms. María’ isn’t something I thought I would ever hear. I felt important, wanted and needed by someone in a positive way.” – María Armendariz

San Antonio, May 18, 2012 – Six students received prizes in a national competition among participants in the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program, a nationally-recognized cross-age tutoring program of the Intercultural Development Research Association. Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program tutors wrote about how the program helped them do better in school and how they had helped their tutees to do better.

  • First Place High School Winner – Lanala Hayes, 9th Grade, Phyllis Wheatley High School, Houston
  • Second Place High School Winner – Sade Harnsberry, 10th Grade, E.L. Furr High School, Houston
  • Third Place High School Winner – Omar Galvan, 10th Grade, E.L. Furr High School, Houston
  • First Place Middle School Winner – María Armendariz, 8th Grade, Dr. Javier Saenz Middle School, La Joya, Texas
  • Second Place Middle School Winner – Yamileth Gonzalez, 8th Grade, Dr. Javier Saenz Middle School, La Joya, Texas
  • Third Place Middle School Winner – Pedro Sanchez, 8th Grade, Dr. Javier Saenz Middle School, La Joya,  Texas

There were competitions at both the middle school and high school levels in the United States. Winners from each competition are being awarded $200 for first place, $150 for second place and $100 for third place.

In her essay, Lanala Hayes wrote: “I was a kid with no thought of what I would be doing after high school, a kid who didn’t care about my grades… But, soon enough, the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program helped to change me… I was starting to think of what would happen if I didn’t get my high school diploma or if I didn’t get enough credits. What type of job or college would I get into? If I didn’t go to a good college would it affect the type of job I could apply for? Would I have to work at a fast food place all my life?… I started trying harder in school, striving for A’s and B’s, and my teachers took notice.”

“Before I became a tutor in the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program, I lacked patience and I got upset if I had to wait for an absurd amount of time,” Sade Harnsberry wrote in her essay. “I realized that my tutees are only in second grade and they are still learning, so they will get off task… I also had to remember to be slow to anger because it wouldn’t be a good way to get the tutees’ attention. My tutees will do what they see me do, so I have to do what I want them to do.”

“I finally got to see how teachers struggle just to teach, because I tutor younger students, and it’s a struggle,” wrote Omar Galvan. “I see all the little children eager to learn and that shows me that I shouldn’t let go of opportunities that easily… The Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program has helped me change not only in the classroom but also helped me open up my eyes to the real world and how we need to change to leave a good example for the younger ones behind us.”

In her essay, María Armendariz wrote: “Pre-kinder kids calling me ‘Ms. María’ isn’t something I thought I would ever hear. I felt important, wanted and needed by someone in a positive way. I have learned that it is a privilege to be in this program and not to mess it up because my tutees from the elementary school really need my help in order for them to succeed… My tutees not only served as a learning tool for me, but they also served as a motivation for me to want to be someone special in life. That’s how my life changed since I got in this program.”

“I used to feel worthless and that I was not good at anything I did… Coming into this school year, things weren’t looking so great for me. It seemed like no one needed me or wanted me,” Yamileth Gonzalez wrote in her essay. “I see a lot of myself in my tutees because I also used to struggle with math and reading… They make me realize that I am needed and I am wanted by someone… I can honestly put my head up high and say proudly that Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program has made a huge difference in my life.”

Pedro Sanchez wrote: “I was very nervous to start school because my English was not fluent… I often held my head down, almost ashamed of being myself… I was assigned to a teacher where I would have three kids who were impatient, stubborn and easily distracted – sort of like me in my regular classes. I soon began to comprehend that my behavior in school was something that needed to change because I was affecting not only my classmates and teachers, but also myself… I hold my head up high now, and I thank the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program for that sense of accomplishment.”

Honorable mentions were awarded to students in schools that submitted multiple student essays; these students had the highest score at their campus.

The Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program, created by IDRA, is an internationally-recognized cross-age tutoring program. Since its inception in 1984, the program has kept more than 32,000 students in school, young people who were previously at risk of dropping out. According to the Valued Youth creed, all students are valuable, none is expendable. The lives of more than 735,000 children, families and educators have been positively impacted by the program.

The text of all of the winning essays are available online at:  http://www.idra.org/coca-cola-valued-youth-program/student-essays/.

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

[©2012, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the June-July 2012 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Every effort has been made to maintain the content in its original form. However, accompanying charts and graphs may not be provided here. To receive a copy of the original article by mail or fax, please fill out our information request and feedback form. 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.]