• by Josie Danini Supik, M.A. • IDRA Newsletter • October 1994 • Josie Cortez Josie Danini Supik, M.A.

Ten years ago, 100 high school students began walking across the street from their school to tutor elementary children in San Antonio, Texas. This marked the beginning of a program that would change the lives of thousands of students, teachers and administrators; and that would ultimately change schools.

What was, and is, remarkable about the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program and the transformations it produces is that participating high school students had traditionally been the ones to receive help; never had they been asked to provide help. It was inconceivable to many adults that these students had anything of value that anyone would want; they were poor, minority, limited-English-proficient (LEP), had been retained in school, were over age, read below their grade levels, and had higher than average absenteeism and disciplinary action rates. These were the “throwaways,” students who were not expected ever to graduate from high school. There were some adults, however, who did see their inherent value and the contributions they could make, and who were committed to helping others see it also.

A New Idea

One such individual was Dr. José A. Cárdenas, who first thought of the idea of valued youth back in 1968. As superintendent of the Edgewood school district in San Antonio, one of the poorest school districts in the country, he was faced daily with the school system’s inequities and injustices against students who were poor and minority. Not surprisingly, half of these students dropped out of school.

At the same time, peer and cross-age tutoring was being used to help alleviate the teacher shortage, not just in Edgewood but across the country. But it was always the honor roll students who were selected to be tutors. Dr. Cárdenas believed that there were other students who could also provide help. To maximize their potential for success, he decided that cross-age tutoring would work best. In this model, high school students would work with kindergarten through second-grade students during a class period. As he tried the model in one school, he saw immediate. positive changes in the tutors and their tutees.

In 1973, he formalized the mission to advocate for all children through his founding of the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA). The strong belief that all children must be valued was articulated through IDRA’s work in school finance issues, research and evaluation, training, materials and program development, and information dissemination.

In 1984, Coca-Cola USA approached then-San Antonio mayor, Henry Cisneros (current Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development), about starting a dropout prevention initiative for Hispanic youth, whose national dropout rate reached as high as 80 percent in some cities. Cisneros contacted Dr. Cárdenas, and IDRA was subsequently awarded a four-year grant totaling $400,000 to implement a Valued Youth model as a Partners in Education Program in four San Antonio school districts. With IDRA’s support and management, 90 percent of the grant award went directly to the schools to operate the program.

Although an evaluation component had not been funded, Dr. Cárdenas and Dr. María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel, IDRA’s executive director since 1992, strongly believed that the program, like all of IDRA’s programs, needed to be evaluated. Later, this proved to be one of the critical components for the program’s continued viability. Over the four years, the evaluation results showed a dropout rate of less than 6 percent and improved grades, attendance and discipline for the high school tutors.

Meanwhile, IDRA was conducting The Texas School Dropout Survey Project funded by the Texas Department of Community Affairs in collaboration with the Texas Education Agency (TEA). One of the most alarming findings from this study was the fact that half of all Hispanics who dropped out did so before entering the ninth grade. It was clear that intervention was needed earlier than in the high school, and, for that reason, the Valued Youth model was moved to the middle school (Robledo et al., 1986).

The Idea Proves Successful

In 1987, IDRA was awarded a two-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Bilingual Education and Minority Languages Affairs (OBEMLA) to implement the Partners for Valued Youth Program is a research and demonstration project in two school districts in San Antonio. One hundred tutors and 600 tutees in four middle and elementary schools of low property wealth and high concentrations of Hispanic students participated in this project.

After two years, research showed a dropout rate of 1 percent for the treatment group of seventh-grade tutors as compared to 12 percent for the comparison group selected from a pool of students who were limited-English-proficient and were reading below grade level on a standardized achievement test. The Valued Youth tutors consistently showed statistically significant improvement in their reading grades, attitudes toward school, and self-concept. Attendance and discipline also improved (Cárdenas, et al., 1992).

What the research and demonstration project also provided was empirically based information on which aspects of the model worked and which needed modification. What evolved was a model with 10 components: five instructional (tutoring sessions, classes for tutors, role models, field trips and student recognition) and five support (curriculum, parent involvement, coordination, evaluation and staff enrichment). Undergirding the 10 components was a strong philosophical base that emphasized an uncompromising belief that all students can and will learn, and that schools must value all students.

About this same time, The Coca-Cola Foundation was reviewing the programs
Coca-Cola USA had funded in 1984. The Valued Youth Program had conducted a comprehensive evaluation. Its success had endured beyond the four years of funding. The program was receiving media attention, having been featured in a 1989 Barbara Walters’ ABC television special, Survival Stories. The special had captured the essence of the program and its profound impact on the participants and their families.

The Program Flourishes

The program’s success led to The Coca-Cola Foundation’s awarding IDRA $1.32 million in 1990. Over five years, IDRA would implement the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program in five sites across the country: two in Texas and one each in California, New York and Florida. IDRA would provide each school with 10 days of training and technical assistance, evaluate and monitor the program, develop materials for implementation and disseminate information about the program. Ultimately, schools would institutionalize the program and continue implementing it beyond their three years of funding from The Coca-Cola Foundation.

This past school year, 1993-94, was the fourth of five years of foundation funding. Instead of 10 secondary and elementary schools as originally proposed, the
Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program was implemented in 59 schools across the country. Close to 850 tutors and 2,500 tutees benefited from the program this year alone.

IDRA has maintained the same rigorous, comprehensive evaluation throughout the years, and the findings have remained consistent: less than a 2 percent dropout rate and improved self-concept, attitudes toward school, grades, achievement test scores, attendance and discipline. IDRA’s commitment to providing schools with training and technical assistance, while six times the original commitment, also continues.

Much of this exponential growth is due to support through federal, corporate, state, local and school district funding. Growth can also be attributed to the program’s recognition as an exemplary program by the Texas Education Agency, the U.S. Department of Education, the Corporation for National and Community Service (formerly the Commission on National and Community Service), the Peter F. Drucker Foundation for Nonprofit Management, and former U.S. President George Bush. It was one of only 30 programs worldwide to be selected for inclusion in the International Youth Foundation database.

The following are other vital factors that contributed to the program’s success throughout these past 10 years.

1. The Core Component

One important factor is the program’s essence – the valuing, of students through the contributions they make as tutors. When students are placed in positions of responsibility and are given the support needed to succeed, they not only meet expectations but often exceed them. Thousands of students have proven this time and again.

2. The School Structure

An implementation team composed of volunteers is formed within the existing school structure. This team consists of a central office administrator acting as program administrator secondary and elementary school principals, a teacher coordinator, an elementary school representative, a family liaison and an evaluation liaison. The team, which formally meets three times a year, creates linkages between the central office and the campuses, between secondary and elementary campuses, and between administrators and teachers. These linkages allow for consensus, ownership aind alliances. It is also an effective means for ensuring, that the program is on course throughout the year.

The power of this group should not be underestimated when key school personnel join forces with one single goal – to support valued youth.

3. Clear Roles and Responsibilities

Roles and responsibilities of the schools and IDRA are clearly articulated. The program succeeds in schools when it is supported by the superintendent and central office administration and is reinforced at the campus level. This includes accepting the program’s philosophy as consistent with the school’s mission and committing time, effort and resources to ensure the program’s critical elements are implemented.

4. Standardization of IDRA’s Training and Evaluation

In 1990, IDRA developed a set of guides to provide each member of the implementation team with a comprehensive handbook for implementing the program. It includes an evaluation handbook with sample instrumentation and protocols. These guides ensure the standardization and uniformity needed for replication.

IDRA’s trainer certification process also ensures that training and technical assistance is standardized and is of consistently high quality. As part of IDRA’s commitment to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Diffusion Network, a trainer certification process has been developed and documented through which IDRA staff working on the program are trained and supported throughout the year.

5. IDRA’s Evaluation and Monitoring

IDRA’s commitment to continue its rigorous program evaluation and monitoring has provided invaluable quantitative and qualitative data that allow for informed decision-making throughout the year; corrective measures can be taken quickly. if needed. In addition to the information collected from the school participants, IDRA also debriefs with each staff member after a visit to the school site. While debriefings are labor-intensive, they provide a period of reflection and introspection for the staff member as well as a qualitative history of the interventions.

6. Quick Affective Changes

Within a matter of weeks, tutors begin to show signs that they are seeing themselves and others differently: a male tutor decides on his own to take off his earring as he walks to the elementary school; a female tutor changes her T-shirt to one she considers more appropriate for the little ones. These small changes occur very quickly with most tutors. Teachers begin to notice early on that the tutors are somehow different in the way they carry themselves, in their manner of dress and in their treatment of teachers. This becomes a powerful reinforcer for the adults and the students that the program is beginning to work.

7. Financial Compensation for the Work Done

Tutors receive minimum wage stipends for their work as tutors. When youth are treated as tutors. When youth are treated as responsible professionals and compensated for the work they do, they are being told in a tangible way that the work they do is worth something. The monthly paycheck, which may not seem much to adults (less than $70 per month), is a validation of their contribution. It is also a way of easing the financial hardship most of the tutors’ families face on a daily basis. When tutors are able to financially contribute to the family, whether in the form of paying the heating bill or buying clothes, their self-worth is enhanced exponentially.

8. Bonds Are Developed

As tutors begin to realize that their tutees needs them, they respond to those needs and connect with them in ways that others may not be able to. The tutors often see themselves in their tutees. They can remember what it was like for them, often struggling in elementary schools. They want to help these children in ways they themselves were never helped.

The tutor-tutee bond is not the only one that develops. The teacher coordinator often becomes a strong advocate for these students. The elementary teacher also forms strong connections with the tutors, and many see them as indispensable, valuable assistants.

9. Families Valued as Partners

The program serves as an effective mechanism for connecting parents with the schools in positive ways. For many of the tutors’ parents, the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program is the first instance the school has communicated positively about their children. The special recognition event at the end of the year, which celebrates the tutors’ contributions throughout the year, is a significant validation of their children’s worth. Some of the teacher coordinators visit the parents’ homes at the beginning of the year to introduce themselves and the program. Parents are invited to visit the school and participate in meaningful ways. This simple act of courtesy and respect is acknowledged through the parents’ increased involvement in the school.

10. Student-Centered Curriculum

One day a week, tutors have their own classes that enhance tutoring skills, self-concept and literacy. The teacher coordinators use curriculum that incorporates self-paced and individualized instruction. This also allows the teacher to model appropriate instruction and classroom management techniques for the tutors. It is a period for students to reflect on their work that week and for the teacher coordinator to address students’ concerns and needs.

What these factors produce are transformations in the students (tutors and tutees), the elementary teachers, the teacher coordinators, the parents, the counselors and the administrators. When a teacher or administrator sees the contributions of a student in “at-risk” circumstance, it forces a re-examination of old paradigms. Many conclude that the greatest “at-risk” circumstances students face may be the school’s low (and self-fulfilling) expectations.

The Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program succeeds because it subtly but powerfully challenges and ultimately changes people’s beliefs and behaviors. One administrator recently recounted her first experience with the program. She knew “Paul Hayes*,” by his reputation as a student who “sent teachers into early retirement.” She watched him get off the bus at the elementary school where he would be tutoring that day. She kept a vigilant eye on him as he entered the classroom and watched in amazement as he put on a hand puppet and began teaching three little ones. What she saw in that classroom was “Mr. Hayes” using effective classroom management techniques and innovative instruction. She saw Mr. Hayes’ students following his every word and learning. And she saw the elementary teacher tell her how she would be lost without Mr. Hayes in her classroom. As she watched him get back on the bus that would transport him to his middle school, she wondered if his middle school teachers would see the Mr. Hayes that was inside him or would they only see Paul?

The Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program helps us see what is on the inside – the inherent value and potential of each child. But it is up to each of us to see beyond the Pauls and into the Mr. Hayes.

*Name changed for privacy.


Cárdenas, José A., Robledo Montecel, María, Supik, Josie D., and Harris. R.J. “The Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program: Dropout Prevention Strategies for At-Risk Students.” Texas Researcher. (Texas Center for Educational Research, Winter 1992), 3, 111-130.

Robledo, María R., Cárdenas, José A., Supik, Josie D., et al. 7he Texas School Dropout Survey Project: A Summary of Findings (San Antonio, TX: Intercultural Development Research Association, 1986).

Josie D. Supik is the director of the IDRA Division of Research and Evaluation. Comments and questions may be directed to her via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©1994, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the October 1994 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.]