Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program – 2013 Essay Contest
Winner: Middle School Third Place
8th grade, Dr. Javier Saenz Middle School, La Joya, Texas
An Appreciative Student
Since I became a tutor for the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program, my life both at school and at home have changed. Things have not always been easy for me. Due to some circumstances with my family, I have taken the role as the man of the house. It hasn’t been easy, but let me tell you how it all started and the direction my life has taken during the course of the past six months.
It’s been four years since I’ve seen my father. One day, my dad got called to go back to Mexico because his uncle was on his death bed. He left without a moment’s notice, and that was the last time I saw him. Life was hard during this time because I didn’t know what was going on. I had so many questions running through my head: “How were my mom and I going to support ourselves now? How was I, as the only boy in the house, going to lead the way as the man of the house and be there for my mom?”
Then to top it all off, two weeks after this happened, my mom slipped at work while washing dishes and broke her arm. Although I was grateful that she recovered from this injury, I still needed to do something to make sure we maintained our home and had food to eat. It was about a month or so after my mom’s accident that she began ironing clothes as a job and also as therapy for her arm. I was a bit relieved but still worried daily because I was always thinking of what I could do to bring in some money to help us out.
Four years later, here I am!! Coming into eighth grade, I really didn’t know what the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program was all about. On the first day of school I saw it on my schedule, and because I’m so shy, I didn’t ask any of my teachers or counselor what this program was. I just waited to go to this class and see what it would bring. The first day of school, I was very eager to go to my Coca-Cola VYP class because I wanted to know more about it. I sat and waited for Mr. Ramirez to begin talking to us about the program, the rules and the expectations. Once the rules and the overview of the program were announced, I was so relieved. The answer to my worries for four years of finding a way to bring home a check to help mom and I was finally being answered. The only thing I was a little bit scared of was the fact that I had to tutor elementary students. Would I be able to do it? Would the kids be willing to learn from me? I would just have to wait until the first day of tutoring at Clinton Elementary.
The first day we got to the elementary, Mr. Ramirez explained the procedure for that school period, and he took us directly to meet the teacher and our tutees. My tutees looked at me as if I was an alien from outer space, scared and wondering who in the world I was and where I came from. I immediately introduced myself to the teacher and the tutees and showed them a poster I had created entitled, “All About Me!!” After my short presentation, the kids started asking me questions, and I began opening up a bit more. Before I knew it, the tutoring session was over, and it was time to head back to school. WOW!! I had made it through the first day, and it wasn’t so bad at all. Upon getting my first check, I was excited. Mr. Ramirez took a picture of the entire Coca-Cola VYP group with their first checks in hand and posted it on the wall outside his classroom. But what I was really excited about was presenting the check to my mom. When I got home, I showed my first check to her, and she literally began to cry. She explained she was proud of me and to continue doing a great job. I would now be able to contribute to helping my mother with bills or just basic necessities around the house such as medicines for her arthritis.
Every day in this program is a blessing to me. Some students take it for granted to have a program such as the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program that gives students like me an opportunity to shine and become better and more responsible individuals while at the same time getting paid. That’s why when I go to the elementary for tutoring, I feel like I have God in my heart, and He gives me the potential and the love to go teach my tutees. I have also seen the success my students have displayed in their learning. For example, when I got there on day one, they could not pronounce my name. But after six months of drilling them with pronunciation of my name and of vocabulary words, they now pronounce my name perfectly!! I am so happy and grateful that my counselor, Mrs. Campos, chose me to participate in this program. I hope that in years to come, I can be a part of this program and help other students and their families the way the program helped mine.
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.