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After-School Program Helps At-Risk Tweens

Updated: Monday, June 23 2014, 04:17 PM CDT

It may look like an ordinary class but it's much more. Within the safety of Dobie Middle School students learn to lead through LaunchPad -- an after-school program targeting at-risk tweens.

David Contreras is a teacher, mentor -- and to many of the middle schoolers -- their only positive role model.

"What we try to do is get a win in school early.  What that feels like to be successful right now," said Contreras.

It's the skills the kids learn in the classroom that helps them cope with the crime and violence out on the city streets.

Luis Santos has been in the after-school program for three years. He credits LaunchPad with keeping him on the right path when his buddies are being led astray.

"Little kids smoking pot with older kids. Getting into fights and joining gangs," said Santos.

Jorge Avila is a shining example of the power of the program.

"It shows me good things about life. Keep studying don't drop out.  Make good choices," said Avila.

Those good choices earned 12-year-old Santos a medal for his leadership skills and a pat on the back from Austin Police Department.

"If we don't catch them in these earlier years it may be too late later on," said Senior Officer Rafael Kianes.

And the program works. Over the past six years LaunchPad has empowered hundreds of troubled tweens to turn their lives around -- including a former gang member turned high school football player.

Some even return to the classroom to give back and say thanks.

"I love working with these kids. Just seeing them smile makes me happy. It's the best feeling you can have," said Lorena Castillo.

By Alex Boyer

After-School Program Helps At-Risk Tweens

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