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Six Teens Win 2015 National Essay Contest Awards

Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program Tutors Share Stories of the Program’s Impact on Their Lives

“I no longer want to be referred to as the student who is a troublemaker and doesn’t seem to care about her education. I want to be looked at as a role model, responsible student, and community leader.’” – Agustina García

Six students received prizes in a national competition among participants in the IDRA Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program, a nationally-recognized cross-age tutoring program of the Intercultural Development Research Association. Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program tutors wrote about how the program helped them do better in school and how they had helped their tutees to do better.

  • First Place High School Winner – Nathaniel Duarte, 11th Grade, Odessa High School, Ector County ISD, Texas
  • Second Place High School Winner – Jerelie Márquez, 12th Grade, Odessa High School, Ector County ISD, Texas
  • Third Place High School Winner – Mónica Pando, 11th Grade, Odessa High School, Ector County ISD, Texas
  • First Place Middle School Winner – Agustina García, 7th Grade, Dr. Javier Saenz Middle School, La Joya ISD, Texas
  • Second Place Middle School Winner – José Rodríguez, 8th Grade, Captain Manuel Rivera, Jr. PS/MS279, New York City
  • Third Place Middle School Winner – Johan Servones, 8th Grade, Captain Manuel Rivera, Jr. PS/MS279, New York City

There were competitions at both the middle school and high school levels in the United States. Winners from each competition are being awarded $200 for first place, $150 for second place and $100 for third place.

‘Because of you, I didn’t give up.’

In his essay, Nathaniel Duarte wrote: “I don’t mean to brag, but my kids [tutees] are pretty great… I used to believe that I didn’t have a purpose, but because of them, I’m starting to feel like I have a reason. Because if I don’t go to their school one day, they’ll ask me the next day where was I and why didn’t I go. That’s how I know that I matter to them… One of my goals in life is for someone to walk up to me and say, ‘Because of you, I didn’t give up.’ That is what I’m trying to accomplish in the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program, so that maybe by motivating my kids now they will be able to say that to me in the future.”

“When I first saw them [my tutees], I didn’t just see some random strangers, but excited kids who were excited because they got to be taught by a high school tutor,” Jerelie Márquez wrote in her essay. “They tell me about their future career plans… Every time they tell me what they want to do, I just see a twinkle in their eyes and their motivation. I put myself in their position and wonder to myself what made my motivation fade over the years. From seeing them, all I wanted was the motivation they have now. They eventually brought it back, and it made me strive to try harder at what I do, all while having fun and not forcing it upon myself miserably like I used to do. I love the irony of how we all get taught something new every day I walk through that door in the elementary building.”

In her essay, Mónica Pando wrote: “The first semester when I walked into that fifth grade class and attempted to help my tutees with their schoolwork, it was hard! I would explain things to them, but the next day they would forget what I taught them. Then I realized they had the same problem I had. They were receiving the information, but instead of absorbing the information they would lose it. So I decided that night to research ways to help them grasp and keep the information… I did not think it would help, but surprisingly it did… Since I joined the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program, I learned a new method of learning that helps me.”

“I feel needed when I walk into my class, and my tutees begin to jump up and down yelling my name, ‘Ms. García!’ wrote Agustina García. “My confidence went up, I had more motivation, and the cool part was that my teachers and parents began to notice this positive change also… I no longer want to be referred to as the student who is a troublemaker and doesn’t seem to care about her education. I want to be looked at as a role model, responsible student, and community leader… I would have never thought of becoming an educator and making a difference in the lives of others if it wasn’t for the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program. Because of this program, my life has meaning and prospective future.”

“The Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program made me realize that to get a good education, you need good grades, so I stepped up my game and now I am passing every subject…” José Rodríguez wrote in his essay. “I thought that I was never going to become a leader, but God has given me the opportunity to experience what it feels like!!! It is a wonderful experience!!! I feel like a special person because kids are following my good decisions.”

“Being a tutor is not easy because first graders still need a lot of attention and patience. They move around a lot, cry and sometimes need a lot of help and assistance because they’re impatient,” wrote Johan Servones. “Even though tutoring is a required part of the program, it has become something that I really love to do. It is interesting when you can convey thoughts to others by using both verbal and non-verbal messages… I think being able to participate in the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program has made me a better student… and also has taught me that the future comes from the actions and choices you choose now.”

Honorable mentions

Honorable mentions were awarded to students in schools that submitted multiple student essays; these students had the highest score at their campus.

High School Honorable Mention

  • Desiree Salazar – 9th Grade • South San Antonio High School • San Antonio

Middle School Honorable Mentions

  • Esmeralda Concha – 7th Grade • Memorial Middle School • La Joya, Texas
  • Ashley Franco – 8th Grade • New Open World Academy • Los Angeles
  • Natalie García – 7th Grade • Ann Richards Middle School • La Joya, Texas
  • Kimberly López – 7th Grade • César Chávez Middle School • La Joya, Texas
  • Alex Peña – 6th Grade • Domingo Treviño Middle School • La Joya, Texas
  • Teyundra Robinson – 8th Grade • George Manierre K-8 School • Chicago
  • Tameya Stringer – 8th Grade • Carstens Elementary-Middle School • Detroit
  • Jalil Tenner – 8th Grade • John Still K-8 School • Sacramento

About the Program: the power of valuing youth

The IDRA 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 646,000 children, families and educators have been positively impacted by the program.

The text of all of the winning essays are available online.

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