• Emaje’ Williams, Odessa High School, Ector County ISD, Texas • IDRA Newsletter • November-December 2019 •

One mistake I made in life was giving up on finding help when I needed it the most in school. Although the help might have been there, I felt I couldn’t ask. Some of my teachers would act as if they didn’t want to help me, or other students would make fun of my questions – to the point where I just stop asking anything.

Feeling you are not smart enough can change and ruin the way a child learns. It can also play a part in how you decide to act in class. I speak from experience. I stopped trying in my classes. I started acting out in them and tried to be the class clown. I became disruptive to other students’ learning, and I started getting sent to the office. I was there so often that the principal became my “best friend.”

One day, while I was in his office, he looked me in my eyes and asked me why. Why was I acting this way with my teachers? What was the reason I acted out in class but was wonderful while I was in the office? At first, I couldn’t answer him, but then I told him. I started crying because I really felt I wasn’t smart enough, and I was embarrassed.

In that moment, he told me I was capable of anything and to never let someone else be the reason I’m not succeeding. He became my mentor and would help me with anything I needed help with. All I had to do was ask.

My principal never really knew how much he impacted my life because from that day forward I decided to change. I started to pay attention in class, I stopped acting out, and I stopped being the class clown. I decided I wanted to be a teacher and to help students going through the same situation.

That is exactly the opportunity the Valued Youth Partnership* program gave me. It gave me the opportunity to make the kids feel comfortable enough to ask me the questions that needed to be asked. This year, I had a tutee who didn’t like to speak up and pay attention. He was afraid to be wrong and didn’t want to be embarrassed. So, I started going a little slower with him and tried my hardest to figure out ways to help him understand.

Learn More About the IDRA Valued Youth Partnership Program

The IDRA Valued Youth Partnership is a research-based, dropout prevention program that has kept 98% of its tutors in school. The program identifies middle and high school students who are in at-risk situations and enlists them as tutors for elementary school youngsters who are also struggling in school. Valued Youth tutors learn self-discipline and develop self-esteem. And schools shift to the philosophy and practices of valuing students considered at-risk.

  • Website: Learn about the program and how to bring it to your school
  • Brochure: Dropout Prevention that Works
  • Winning Essays: Full text of the six winning student essays

My tutee has improved so much since then! He is able to keep up with the other students and has no problem asking questions. His parents even sent a letter thanking me because he’s changed so much, and he is always talking about the lessons I do with him. This is exactly why I wanted to work with kids. I wanted to help, and now I know that I can.

If it wasn’t for the IDRA Valued Youth Partnership, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to fulfill my goals. It has shown me that I can make the difference. I want to keep going and help those kids who others don’t seem to. I am going to become a teacher and help all kids feel that they are good enough and change how they view teachers. I want to be a part of that change.

Emaje’ Williams received the third place award among high school Valued Youth tutors in IDRA’s nationwide essay contest. She was then a junior at Odessa High School in Ector County ISD.

* The program name was changed to IDRA Valued Youth Partnership in July 2019.

[©2019, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the November-December 2019 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.]