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Valued Youth Partnership

Maria Zuniga

Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program – 2013 Essay Contest

Winner: Middle School Second Place

View printable PDF version of her winning essay

María Del Rosario Zuñiga
8th grade, Dr. Javier Saenz Middle School, La Joya, Texas

How Tutoring has Helped Me        

Being a tutor for the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program has made a difference for me and my family. It has helped me become more responsible not only with things at my school but with situations going on at home too. Life has not been the easiest for me and my family since we moved to this area of town. My life is an obstacle. But let me explain to you how this obstacle has opened up new doors for me which has brought me to the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program.

As I just mentioned, life has been an obstacle to overcome. You see, my parents and I aren’t in the best financial situation. I consider us to be on the poor side. My family is always looking for a job that will help us provide food and shelter. We have struggled to keep our house and have had to move numerous times due to the fact that we are not able to pay our home. For this reason, I tend to be absent from school quite a bit, which makes passing my classes pretty difficult.

However, life changed for me the first week of school this year. Our counselor, Mrs. Campos, informed me that I would be placed in a program called the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program. I had no clue what the program was about or why I was placed in there. But I went along with it and showed up to my Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program class. My teacher, Mr. Ramirez, was informing us of all the rules we had to follow and gave us a summary of what Coca-Cola VYP was all about. I’ll be honest with you. Hearing that I would get a monthly check brought a huge smile to my face because that meant that my family would have that extra bit of money to help us with our necessities. Little did I know that getting paid was not going to be the true reward of tutoring elementary students. But at the time, getting a check was all I thought about.

That day, I went home and talked to my mom about the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program. I explained to her that I would get a monthly check for tutoring students at Clinton Elementary. When I finished telling her about it, she looks at me and with a tear in her eye tells me: “I’m so proud of you. Do your very best because this is your chance to show them who you are.” Of course she told me this in Spanish, our native language. That day, my hopes and self-esteem went up by a lot. I was no longer the girl that was looked at by teachers as always failing. I was going to be somebody in life, and it started now. 

The first day of tutoring students was very scary. I realized that I was now a teacher and that these students were going to rely on me for their learning and success. The students quickly learned my name, Ms. María. Somehow hearing my name used in a proper form gave me chills. I felt special and really important. As the weeks and months went by, the checks started coming in, and it was a true blessing for my family and me. I started focusing more on my classes and made sure I was passing them. My attendance improved because having my own job didn’t mean I had to go and look for one to help out my family at home. I also was encouraged to pass my class because I wanted to become smarter for my elementary tutees. The responsibility of having the students’ success in my hands, even if it is for a school period a day, made a big difference in the way I started to view the program. As time passed, it wasn’t about the money anymore. It was about making sure that I was taking advantage of every minute with my tutees to make sure that they were learning as much from me, just like I was learning from them. My elementary teacher is very supportive of everything I do with my students and is there to guide me with whatever I might need.

Who would have known that tutoring and being in the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program would have shown me how to be a more responsible student? I never thought that I, María Zuñiga, would ever have a future in life as being somebody that will make a difference in other people’s life. My parents are so proud of the young woman I have become in the short months I’ve been involved with Coca-Cola VYP. My mom was right when she said that this was my chance to show everyone what I’ve got. My teachers at school now see me as a more positive student. Mr. Ramirez, our Coca-Cola VYP coordinator, has seen the growth in me from August until now, and how much more confident and responsible I have become. I know that my families’ financial situation is not completely over with. But the Coca-Cola VYP has given me that boost of confidence to believe in myself. Who knows what would have become of me if I had not been placed in the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program. But the important thing is that I was, and I am proud of what I have accomplished! 


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 33,000 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 787,000 children, families and educators have been positively impacted by the program. Contact IDRA for more information or see the program website.