CANTON, Ohio — At Canton McKinley High School, there's an administrator who has taken his role of mentoring students to new heights. While the expected goal is graduation, the focus becomes what's next: jobs, internships, and college.
Terrance Jones uses his own story to guide the next generation.
On our visit to McKinley, we found him at a high-top table in the school's commons, surrounded by students.
"I meet no strangers. If I see an unfamiliar face, whether it be a new or transfer student or one I've never seen, I make it a point to be the new student every day," Jones told us.
In the fall of 2022, the Canton City School District created a new administrative role, which appointed Jones as McKinley's "graduation coach." It's a role that speaks to the district's confidence in Jones and his success in building positive relationships with each student he encounters.
"They allow me to have that space to be able to provide counsel and then I put that responsibility back on them," Jones explains. "Whether it be with a kid who has some challenges, or to be able to talk through that to be an ear and a familiar face to at least hear, if nothing else."
As McKinley's "graduation coach," Jones keeps tabs on the students. That means holding them accountable, keeping them out of danger of not graduating on time, dropping out, or graduating without a plan for their future.
"They don't know the fact that I had a hiccup in high school or that I was on the fast track to success. That because I didn't follow some of the basic things I was taught, I suffered some consequences," says Jones.
You see, this job is personal for Jones because of his own experience as a senior at McKinley High some 30 years ago. He failed a half-credit course required to graduate.
"I remember the names that were always in front of me and in back of me and my name was not called and I remember the feeling," Jones recalls. "But what I remember most is walking home alone from graduation and I cried all the way home."
Jones admits his shortcomings led to a different outcome. "I was just regressing, and no one was there to catch me. The ones that could catch me, I didn't have an ear to hear."
But Jones picked himself up. He was able to make up the course in summer school and started college on time.
"We don't know where life will take us and I'm a firm believer that we land places because that's where we're supposed to be," he says.
Jones says the loss of focus during his senior year is what he's now made his mission to pass along to other students in his new role.
Last week, McKinley High School welcomed its 2023 graduating senior class. Standing on the same stage he never got to cross was a full-circle moment for Jones, who served as this year's commencement speaker.
"They will face some failures. Whatever that is… but whatever those failures maybe they can't get stuck there and that's the difference that happened with me. I was trained to keep going. And in this life, we must learn to always keep going," Jones adds.