IDRA Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program Tutors Share Stories of the Program’s Impact on Their Lives

• by IDRA • IDRA Newsletter • June-July 2017 •

“Last year, I had a rough year: constantly on campus suspension, referrals, verbally disrespecting teachers… Ever since I started this Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program, I feel like I am a different person.” – eighth-grader Jimena Guerrero

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.

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 along with commemorative certificates and trophies.

First Place High School Winner: Ana Luisa Valenzuela, 12th Grade, Odessa High School, Texas

In her essay, Ana Luisa Valenzuela wrote: “I didn’t realize that I would be a role model for these kids…I believe that I learned more from my tutee than he learned from me. He may have learned his ABCs and his numbers, but I learned way more than that. I learned that every child needs a ‘backbone’ to support him or her… I became that backbone for some of those kids who didn’t have anyone. These kids came to me with a smile and a hug every day. And that is something that cost nothing, yet means everything…This world is a very cruel and cold place, and if we do not spread kindness, love and joy, we will become cold too. We must help each other because if not, no one else will.”

Second Place High School Winner: Anahi Ayala, 12th Grade, Odessa High School, Texas

“The day I joined the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program was the day my thoughts for my future became clear,” wrote Anahi Ayala. “It was the day I became a tutor and met my tutee. My tutee struggled through the first semester of school trying his hardest to learn his alphabet and how to sound out words. Toward the last week before break, he did the most amazing thing: he read a sentence all by himself! To anyone else this may seem like it’s not a big deal, but to me, it was like climbing to the top of the mountain. The emotions I felt when he was reading filled me with glee. It hit me that I was part of the reason he knows how to read… After all the struggling I put myself through on finding the right career, the Coca-Cola Valued Youth helped me realize that teaching is my future profession.”

Third Place High School Winner: Esmeray Olivas, 12th Grade, Odessa High School, Texas

Esmeray Olivas wrote in her essay: “I began to want the best, to strive for more, to practice kindness, to be slow to anger, to experience achievement together – not only for myself but for others… It’s when we become a captive audience to our passion that we can become active and volunteer for something else other than ourselves. This is what the definition of true love. I learned patience, kindness and selflessness through the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program and working with my tutee. I encourage everyone to create an open mind, helping hands and a willing heart. Together, we can be known as the generation that learned how to love.”

First Place Middle School Winner: Jimena Guerrero, 8th Grade, Zamora Middle School, San Antonio, Texas

“Ever since I started this Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program, I feel like I am a different person,” wrote Jimena Guerrero. “Last year, I had a rough year: constantly on campus suspension, referrals, verbally disrespecting teachers, and I would go along with my ‘friends’ making bad choices… I’m trying to teach my first grade tutee reading skills but also life lessons through my experiences. I hope to teach him how to respect teachers and older people and also to treat others the way you would want to be treated. I just wanted to take advantage of the fact that, as a tutor, I can teach him all I can… This program has not only helped me choose what I want to do when I get older, but it also has taught me how to communicate with younger students, and it has taught me many life lessons I will use in the future.”

Second Place Middle School Winner: Jennifer Vela, 7th Grade, Domingo Treviño Middle School, La Joya, Texas

Jennifer Vela wrote: “I was a shy, depressed girl, that didn’t talk to a lot of people, and never looked on the good side of things. That all changed when I got in the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program and started to tutor. I had a reason to laugh, I could finally see the good things and it was all because of my tutees… I then realized I was a role model to my tutees. I was someone they looked up to… I became a better person, more responsible, respectful, passionate, understanding, and my perspective changed… I could not have asked for a better gift than having the ability to change the lives of these children.”

Third Place Middle School Winner: Lilibeth Berlanga, 7th Grade, Memorial Middle School, La Joya, Texas

In her essay, Lilibeth Berlanga, wrote: “Tutoring others is rewarding because someone else is learning from you what has been taught to you. I have had a lot of fun with them. They are good tutees, and I love them. Sometimes they don’t pay attention to me, but I know that it is part of my job to be patient and guide them back to listening to me. My mom is very proud of me because I help other kids in need. This alone has made me want to come to school every day. Before, I used to miss a lot of school because I had no motive to go. I would get frustrated by how I was being taught and didn’t understand my teachers. Now, that I am in this program, I have valued more the efforts my teachers are making in teaching me.”

Honorable mentions were awarded to students in schools that submitted multiple student essays; these students had the highest score at their campus. Also, while not yet in middle school, fifth grade tutors in the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program at PS94 Kings College School in New York City wrote their own essays.

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 34,100 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 671,000 children, families and educators have been positively impacted by the program.

Learn More about the IDRA Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program

  • Website: Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program – Learn more about the program and how to bring it to your school
  • Video: Dropout Prevention that Works – Quick overview of how the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program impacts students and schools. [01:30 min.]
  • Winning Essays: Full text of the six winning essays

See color highlights flier for 2017 (pdf).

See the booklet with all the winning essays from 2017 (pdf).

[©2017, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the June-July 2017 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.]