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Valued Youth Partnership

Lanala Hayes

Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program – 2012 Essay Contest

Winner: High School First Place

Lanala Hayes
9th Grade, Phillis Wheatley High School ,
Houston

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Like the first rocket to land on the moon, something changed. 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 just like a flower trying to stay nourished in a desert or a flower trying to bloom in concrete, it seemed impossible. But soon enough the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program helped to change me.

I walked into the elementary classroom thinking: “Easy as cake, all I have to do is tutor a few kids and I get some money? Ha, I could do this with my eyes closed and my hands tied behind my back.” I came as cocky as they could have come. I knew I had all the knowledge I needed to tutor second grade, and that just made me think I was like Captain Crunch: “All the kids want me.” I was confident that I could teach second grade.

The first day I walked into Alexandra’s* school, I felt a different atmosphere. Like fireflies attracted to a porch light, a bunch of kids came before me with nothing but smiles. I felt like it was cool to be smart even if it was just to a bunch of 10 year olds. We walked into the classroom we were supposed to tutor in, and the teacher then assigned the students that she thought needed us to help. Before I could even say anything else other then my name, Alexandra asked, “How do you spell though?” And I told her without even a hesitation to think of how you spell it. She looked at me in somewhat wonder and awe. I left her school that day trying to shake a feeling that I can’t describe but secretly wish it would follow me forever like my own shadow.

Like a glass slowly cracking, I was starting to get the concept of school. 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? The more I went to Alex’s school, the more I thought about this kind of stuff. I started trying harder in school, striving for A’s and B’s, and my teachers took notice. They were always trying to help me, but now that I actually wanted their help and was accepting their help, my grades were getting better. That glass that was lightly cracking, I was no longer afraid to let it break.

I’ve been tutoring Alex for almost two semesters now, and I can honestly say she’s made progress. Alex can now spell though without needing any help. Helping Alex at her school also helped me at my school. The Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program helped me with my grades and my future. Though its purpose may have been to help a little bit younger students, I think it helped me more than Alex. The Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program and Alex landed my rocket that was going off course and helped keep my flower nourished in the desert. It’s helped me more than I could give thanks for. And that glass that was cracking? It didn’t only break, it shattered.

*name changed for privacy


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. Contact IDRA for more information or see the program website.