View as Webpage • June 22, 2023

Teens Win 2023 National Essay Contest Awards

IDRA Valued Youth Partnership Program Tutors Share Stories of the Program's Impact on Their Lives

“The thing that gets me up in the morning is the kids. Every morning I get up because I know I have to tutor them, and they depend on me to help them with their work… I think that’s what makes the IDRA Valued Youth Partnership amazing.”

– Brianna Garza, 8th Grade, San Antonio

Six students received prizes in a national competition among participants in the IDRA Valued Youth Partnership program, a nationally-recognized cross-age tutoring program. The VYP tutors wrote about how the program helped them do better in school and how they had helped their tutees to do better.


  • High School First Place Winner – Mariah Rodríguez,11th Grade, Odessa High School, Texas
  • High School Second Place Winner – Carly Oliver, 10th Grade, Odessa High School, Texas
  • High School Third Place Winner – Alina Lozano, 10th Grade, Odessa High School, Texas
  • Middle School First Place Winner – Michelle Ramos, 8th Grade, Abraham Kazan Middle School, San Antonio
  • Middle School Second Place Winner – Daynah Ramos, 8th Grade, Alan B. Shepard Middle School, San Antonio
  • Middle School Third Place Winner – Brianna Garza, 8th Grade, Alan B. Shepard Middle School, San Antonio 

Meet the VYP Essay Contest Winners 2022-23

11th Grade 

Odessa High School

Ector County ISD, Texas

Mariah Rodríguez

High School First Place

“Every time I walk into their classroom and see their excitement coming to me, for me to read, work on their sight words or help them understand, brings me so much joy. It shows me I’m doing my best, and they actually want to learn with me.”


See Mariah’s full essay

10th Grade 

Odessa High School

Ector County ISD, Texas

Carly Oliver 

High School Second Place

“Before VYP, I would never talk to anyone I didn’t know, and I was always scared to speak my mind. Answering simple questions during class was challenging. But now, I know that my opinions are important, and I won’t get anywhere if I keep my questions to myself. I am more brave now and have more confidence. Being in VYP has shown me that my presence matters, and I do have a meaning in a student’s life one way or another. This class has shown me how much meaning I can have in the world, and it makes me extremely proud.”


See Carly’s full essay

10th Grade 

Odessa High School

Ector County ISD, Texas

Alina Lozano

High School Third Place

“What people don't understand – and I wish everyone could see it from my point of view – is that the little kids you get assigned aren't just little kids, they become a family. You form a special bond with the littles throughout the year of working with them… Getting into the program has made me realize that I want to continue working with kids in the future. I am so glad and thankful that I was introduced to the program, because it has shown me a different perspective of how teachers actually deal with us.”



See Alina’s full essay

8th Grade

Abraham Kazan

Middle School,

South San Antonio ISD, Texas

Michelle Ramos

Middle School First Place

"When I started encouraging my tutees, I saw their confidence level rise. As an example… I was grading their papers when I realized that all my tutees got 100s… They all looked at me in disbelief. They couldn't believe that they had accomplished such a thing… Their faces lit up, and they were as happy as they could be... It made me happy because when I think back at my younger self, I didn't have anyone who congratulated me for my accomplishments. No one was happy for me. And now I realize that me being their tutor and congratulating them will help them feel better about themselves and will help them be even more confident.”


See Michelle’s full essay

8th Grade

Alan B. Shepard

Middle School,

South San Antonio ISD, Texas

Daynah Ramos

Middle School Second Place

“The IDRA Valued Youth Partnership is an amazing program… I have learned things from my students too, because when I was in elementary, I was not the best kid. But I have learned from that. They [my tutees] have really made me a better person. They have made me more kind, respectful and patient. I now keep my grades up only to A's and B’s to set a better example for them.”


See Daynah’s full essay

8th Grade

Alan B. Shepard

Middle School,

South San Antonio ISD, Texas

Brianna Garza

Middle School Third Place

“I’ve always wanted to be able to help kids with things that I used to struggle with as a kid. The whole experience being a tutor makes me feel great. But the thing that sticks out to me the most is the way the kids [tutees] light up when they see me, and how they thank me for helping them throughout the day. The thing that gets me up in the morning is the kids. Every morning I get up because I know I have to tutor them, and they depend on me to help them with their work… I think that’s what makes the IDRA Valued Youth Partnership amazing.”


See Brianna’s full essay

Honorable Mentions


  • Brianna Rodríguez 12th grade, Odessa High School, Texas
  • Hailey Al-kayali, 8th Grade Kazan Middle School, San Antonio 
See eBook with full essays (PDF)
See highlights flier (PDF)
Valued Youth Partnership helps students
build their socio-emotional skills
The IDRA Valued Youth Partnership has provided leadership experiences for students all over the country. It increases students’ connectedness, academic achievement, self-efficacy and self-esteem by placing students in leadership positions.  

The Valued Youth Partnership’s key philosophy of valuing youth’s gifts and developing social skills can provide leadership experiences for students who most need engagement. 

The IDRA Valued Youth Partnership has demonstrated tremendous success helping students focus on their education and increasing the school's holding power by concentrating on students with the highest need of support. For almost four decades, VYP has kept 35,000 students in school and positively impacted the lives of 750,000 children, families and educators!

See flier on how VYP transforms student socio-emotional learning and relationships with school
The IDRA Valued Youth Partnership directly addresses socio-emotional factors that are essential to reconnecting and re-engaging with students.

In unprecedented times such as these, schools and districts need a partner with a record of proven success, because all children are valuable, none is expendable.

Join the VYP school-family-community partnership.
When you do, every student can go beyond 
See our video overview of how the IDRA Valued Youth Partnership Program impacts students and schools. 
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