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‘It’s more than a game’

Student advocate connects with youth through basketball

Wyoming — Fourth-grader Alexis Marcano-Aragones hit his third shot in a row on the Parkview Elementary playground basketball court.

“You found your spot. That’s the smooth spot right there,” said Jacob Skaggs, after catching the rebound and passing it back to Alexis.

Under a blue sky on a late September day, Skaggs, a student advocate at the K-4 school, helped students perfect their shots. He’s out there many days during recess, giving tips on basketball, offering a helping hand to those who need it and, every once and awhile, awing the crowd with a 360-degree dunk.

“Are you going to dunk today?” students ask as they run up to join him on the court. Skaggs doesn’t mind showing off his skills with a few fancy dunks, but he’s more focused on helping students be successful – in basketball and in school.

“He helps people when they need help,” Alexis said.

In school, that means bringing a coat and backpack to a sick child who needs to go home, offering a calm space for a student to talk through a problem, or helping students with writing or other subjects.

On the basketball court, that means demonstrating how to follow through on a free throw, offering lots of encouragement and simply sharing his love for the game.

“He keeps saying, ‘You got it!’” said Alexis.  

Schooled, in a Good Way

Skaggs started in his position this school year. 

“I try my best to be wherever I’m needed to support whoever needs it. One minute I’ll be at recess playing basketball, the next I’m helping a student who’s really sad and needs someone to talk to, and then I might be called to the opposite end of the school to help with another challenge that comes up,” he said.

“He helps us make goals,” said fourth-grader Lisaida Gabriel Tomas.

‘Part of my ‘why’ for why I work with education is I always want to try to help anybody, whether it’s the kids or adults, to make them feel like they are seen, appreciated and valued.’

– Jacob Skaggs, student advocate

The unpredictability of each day is part of why he loves the job, he said.

“Regardless of how busy things get, I try to build it into my routine every day to stop and talk to whoever says ‘hi’ to me, give a couple of high-fives, share some bad dad-ish jokes and have a few meaningful conversations with the kids and adults whenever possible.”

Basketball is a great tool to make connections, both with students who aspire to play in high school and those who simply like to dribble and shoot, said Skaggs, who has played the game all his life, with his father, Kevin Skaggs, as his mentor.

Kevin Skaggs is head varsity basketball coach for Erie-Mason High School in Erie, Mich. Skaggs played for his dad for two years in high school and joined him as a coach at Erie-Mason for 10 years. As a player, he was a point guard, shooting guard and forward.

“I’m very similar to my dad, and I mean that in a good way,” he said. “He had a similar career path; he also spent time working in a K-8 school and he’s also been a social worker. It kind of runs in our DNA. I watched him for so long as a kid using basketball to build relationships with grown men and also with little kids in camps we would run.

“Something he would always preach is that it’s more than a game … The person on the team is more important as a person than as a player.”

His ‘Why’

Skaggs began his career as a student teacher in a high school English class, but then, “Through a long, winding road I ended up in an elementary school. Once I got started in it, I absolutely loved it.

“I love the fact that in this role I get to work with the entire student body. Part of my ‘why’ for why I work in education is I always want to try to help anybody, whether it’s the kids or adults, to make them feel like they are seen, appreciated and valued. This role really allows me to reach a wide audience. It’s part of that sense of belonging that Wyoming’s really striving for.”

Parkview Principal Nick Damico said Skaggs has been a wonderful addition to their school. 

“He connects with each student where they are, leading to stronger feelings of belonging for each scholar,” Damico said. “He can dunk a basketball, counsel scholars, connect with parents and he works well with our teachers. He is exactly what you want from a student advocate.”

Skaggs, who graduated from the University of Toledo with a secondary education degree with an English emphasis, has another interest outside of basketball and his job: he’s an author and poet. He is working to find a publisher for or self-publish his novella, tentatively titled “The Bear and the Wolf,” which combines historical fiction, faith and fantasy. 

“It’s always been my thing – basketball and writing.”

Explore more unique video stories of students learning, interesting school programs and educators working to help all children succeed.

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio

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