IDRA at 45 Years: Courageous Connections for Advocacy
Editor’s Note: Anniversaries make us pause and pull out memories. We think back about the early days when people joined together for a special purpose. For IDRA, that purpose has not changed. As long as excellence in schools is available to only a few students, IDRA has kept its purpose – its mission – to achieve equal educational opportunity for every child through strong public schools that prepare all students to access and succeed in college.
For this issue of the IDRA Newsletter, two of our own, whose passion has helped fuel our work over the years, took some time out to reflect on IDRA’s trailblazing work along six paths: the path to fair funding, the path to good educational practices, the path of valuing students, the path of valuing educators, the path of valuing families, and the path of systems change. Their three articles in this newsletter are accompanied by photos across the decades and a peek at an online timeline of IDRA’s policy work.
We are grateful for all who have been a part of this journey since 1973 when a small group of people set out to change the world.
All children are valuable; none is expendable. This simple and profound fact guides the work of IDRA.
Based on empirical research, IDRA designed, developed and expanded the IDRA Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program nationally and beyond. The program personifies our view and expectations of students. Valued became our synonym for assets. A student who the school considers “in danger of dropping out” or “at risk,” we see as a potential tutor of little ones.
To date, more than 718,000 children, families and educators have been positively impacted by this program that has become an internationally-recognized cross-age program with a unique twist. The program works by identifying middle and high school students who are thought be in “at risk” situations and enlisting them as tutors of younger students. Thousands of students have stayed in school and succeeded. The program has maintained a success rate of over 98 percent.
Watch our video about the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program: Dropout Prevention that Works (12 min)
IDRA also examined the reasons for school dropouts. We threw a strong light on attrition (the numbers of students from the freshman class, for example, who were no longer in school as seniors) by developing a strong and, then, unique methodology. And we created the phrase school holding power to shift the spotlight from the student (and perceived student deficits) to systemic patterns of exclusion by schools.
We guided schools to focus on student and family assets, beginning with home language and culture, the inherent familial interest in education and the student’s potential to learn.
The shift was to an asset-view, removing the biased lenses about students and families that perpetuated misperceptions disparaging families of color, poor, English learners, recent immigrant or from “those neighborhoods.”
The Path of Valuing Students
Through the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program, we demonstrated: “When students are placed in responsible roles and are supported in their efforts, powerful changes occur. Valued youth tutors stay in school, improve their literacy and thinking skills, develop self-esteem, feel they belong in school, and attend class more regularly. And schools shift to a practice of valuing youth considered at risk.” (Robledo Montecel, 2009)
Through a major study about Hispanic students in a large urban area, we discovered that if at least one adult in the school has the big picture of the student in mind and acts as mentor and counselor, that student will complete high school (Robledo Montecel, Cortez & Penny-Velasquez, 1989).
In 1986, IDRA was commissioned to conduct the first statewide study of dropouts in Texas. We found that in that year, 86,000 students had dropped out, costing $17 billion in foregone income, lost tax revenues and increased job training, unemployment, welfare and criminal justice costs (Cárdenas, Robledo & Supik, 1986).
By 2017, time-series data indicated that Texas public schools had lost a cumulative total of more than 3.7 million students before high school graduation, including more than 2 million Hispanic students – 55.1 percent of those lost. Ethnic gaps continue unabated; in 2017, Texas schools were still twice as likely to lose Hispanic students before they graduated compared to White students. (Johnson, 2017)
Listen to our podcast episode: “Student Voices on Being Valued” (12 min)
In order to ensure that students stay in school and succeed, it is critical that we shift the deficit ways in which many educators see students and that we enhance the tools used to educate them.
For example, we saw and dealt with the language and culture of the child as a positive gift. Yet most schools, even as they attempted to develop bilingual approaches, were using deficit practices and terms, like “first language interference,” “cultural limitations,” and “limited English.” Our practice instead was rooted in the very real assets of children and families, specifically those who were viewed in negative ways by schools and other institutions.
The Path of Valuing Educators
We also extended our valuing philosophy to respect the knowledge and skills of the teachers, principals and others we work with to model continually how educators can identify assets and build on the strengths of the students and parents in their schools.
Professional development for teachers and administrators has been a key element in our work with schools. Early on, we studied the nature of the adult learner. In contrast to the expert trainer who merely lectures and brings an ideal one-size-fits-all program, we did it differently. Our workshops and presentations are tailored to the situation and participatory, drawing on the experiences of the participants and encouraging critical dialogue.
Our assistance has taken many forms, including technical assistance, teacher professional development in all content areas, principal coaching, school strategic planning, curriculum development, classroom demonstrations, innovative mentorship for new teachers, professional learning communities, and collaborations with universities across the country to improve teacher preparation. From Amanecer (“the beginning of a new day”) to Semillitas de Aprendizaje (a new bilingual set of early childhood materials), we filled a gap of bilingual early childhood materials and teaching strategies.
IDRA’s transition to teaching programs prepared over 800 teachers through college or university coursework and our professional development. They gained skills and insight to serve in high-need schools in bilingual education and STEM areas, with ESL or special education supplemental certification. Partner colleges refined their accelerated teacher preparation programs to better serve our rapidly changing student population.
The Path of Valuing Families
Because of the energy of families who have supported students to protest the inequities and biases in schools, we celebrate how critical families are in creating neighborhood public schools that provide the excellent education they desire. Many of us came from neighborhoods where we heard, oft repeated, “Educate para que no sufras lo que sufri yo” [Get an education so that you don’t suffer what I’ve gone through]. None of us sees universal perfection in our families and neighborhoods, but we do understand their visions and dreams. Those hopes and plans are the fuel for the engagement and leadership we embrace and catalyze.
From a 1970s training institute for parents who sought excellent language programs for their English-learning children, we saw the inherent power in our communities. Critical dialogue and projects to transform schools became laboratories for leadership. Throughout the years, we have convened people across race and gender, across sector, across geography and across educational role to build coalitions for ensuring educational opportunity. Community-based organizations with authentic family engagement and respect for the culture, language and traditions of the families became the best soil for planting the seeds of family leadership in education.
Even with the ever-present call for parent involvement, we assessed the traditional paths of parent involvement and found them wanting. Most programs were not leading to family influence on school policies and practices: not those of traditional parent organizations that stressed volunteerism and fundraising, and not the parenting and self-development classes.
Instead, we instituted an approach that supports family voice and influence, nurtured by actionable data, and granting full and equal partnership to families in relationship to the schools their children attend. The current embodiment of the approach, Education CAFE, grew from many years of effective school-family-community partnerships into a statewide network.
IDRA experiences and research over 45 years shows that the blueprint for quality education requires engaged students in learning, with a relevant and rigorous curriculum, a cadre of caring and qualified teachers and support staff, and an inclusive program of curricular and extra-curricular activities that provide students the opportunity to develop their talents, and strong partnerships with families and communities.
We have seen the excitement and pride of educators, parents, communities and students when they work together and are successful. Our task is to transform systems so schools embrace the characteristics of all students, celebrating the strengths and contributions that they bring.
“I want to feel that I’m somebody. Somebody that my mother can be proud of,” wrote Cory, a Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program tutor. “And I want the teacher and children to see that I can help them.”
Effective schools are those where all students are valued and where all students count.
Robledo Montecel, M. (2009). Continuities – Lessons for the Future of Education from the IDRA Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association).
Robledo Montecel, M., & A. Cortez, M. Penny-Velasquez. (1989). The Answer: Valuing Youth in Schools and Families: A Report on Hispanic Dropouts in the Dallas Independent School District (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association).
María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel, Ph.D., is President & CEO of the Intercultural Development Research Association. Comments and questions may be directed to her via email at email@example.com. Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed., is an IDRA senior education associate. Comments and questions may be directed to him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.