It's a given that students need guidance, support and someone to believe in them.

For one particular group, Kenny McGaugh Jr. seems to be that someone.

Although he grew up in Berkeley and has lived in Japan, he is making deep connections at an Antioch school.

As site supervisor at Park Middle, McGaugh is helping shape 13 students through his Steps to Success.

McGaugh spearheaded the program eight years ago at Antioch's Black Diamond Middle.

He noticed some kids "just not trying. So, I just pulled some grades and begin talking to the students wondering if they would like to be a part of a group, work on getting their grades up and being a better person."

Daily check-ins and weekly meetings are a part of the regimen with McGaugh.

His coaching skills come into play in the program, where goals are set and responsibilities are upheld. McGaugh helped led De La Salle High boys basketball team to a state title.

He has also coached at Antioch's Deer Valley High and Pittsburg High.

And, recently his Steps to Success students received a big dose of reality with a visit to San Quentin Prison.

"The trip was an eye-opening experience listening to the inmates tell their stories," he said. "They (the students) saw how it all can start.

"Watching and seeing the interaction with the students and inmates was very good because these kids could end up just like these inmates with the wrong decisions. I believe they got a lot out of it."

He said over the years, he's had some strong mentors, including a school counselor.

"They continue to still be part of my life."

Park principal John Jimno said McGaugh's contributions are significant.

"The most important aspect of working with students is connecting with them and building a relationship. People in general need to feel valued, but for kids it is a crucial part of their self-esteem and self-confidence," Jimno said.

"For our students associated with at-risk factors, this is even more important. Mr. McGaugh has a natural ability to build relationships, maintain respect and motivate students. It's like they don't want to let him down. Once they do better, they start taking pride in themselves. When kids have more confidence ... it tends to go hand in hand with success. People change people's lives.

"I have no doubt Mr. McGaugh has a positive impact on many students at Park but, for some, I believe he is having a life-changing impact," Jimno said.

Since joining forces with McGaugh, grades have improved. Several students who started with a 1.0 grade-point average have moved to 3.0 and above.

"I love doing what I do. I just want these kids to believe in themselves and to know we care because they are good kids. We just have to give them a chance to show us."

Jimno added that many quality skills are built into McGaugh's program.

"There are many soft skills he teaches that many of them need for survival in a school setting -- healthy ways to interact with their peers, appropriate ways to interact with adults, and how to deal with stress from issues outside of the school.

He also holds them accountable for tracking their own academic progress. Sometimes, (their weekly) check-in is what students are looking forward to most -- it's their chance to get some praise for putting their best effort forward."

Reach Trine Gallegos at trineg@att.net

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