LAUREL — For Tim Martin, the best part of being the co-director of High Road Academy is seeing the smiles on his students’ faces when they walk across the stage during their graduation.
He fondly recalls one of his students who had a rough start in life. Coming from a broken home in a rough place in Baltimore City and moving from home to home along with the special needs education he required like all students at the school, his life would not have been the same if he hadn’t found High Road Academy located.
A year after graduation the student ran into Martin outside of school, and Martin was amazed at the progress he had made having moved out of Baltimore City with a good job and a smile on his face.
The student thanked him for believing in him for his dedication to educating students like him.
“It was something that for me was a moment I won’t forget because he let me know that he was okay and what we did with him meant so much to him,” Martin said.
Passionate about teaching and supporting their students, Martin and co-director Jordan Pugh, are dedicated to educating and making a difference in the lives of students at High Road Academy with special needs.
High Road Academy in Laurel serves 70 students from grades five-through-12 with autism, ADHD, emotional/behavioral and physical challenges and more. Having been educators for a combined 30 years, Pugh and Martin work tirelessly to help those students achieve success.
From the beginning, Pugh had no intention of becoming a teacher. He went to the University of Virginia and obtained an undergraduate degree in English with the intention of becoming a music journalist, aspiring to write for Rolling Stone.
After graduation, he took an editorial assistant position in 2001, but the publication soon went out of business. Desperate for a job, he took an assistant teaching position at High Road Academy and was hooked from the start.
He was then asked to teach full time and went back to school to get a degree in special education from Johns Hopkins University.
“I didn’t have any kind of educational background, but that first year I was in the classroom as an assistant teacher, it was just seeing that amount of progress that our students make,” Pugh said.
“And these are students who have typically struggled for years and years not making any academic progress, so it’s not something you see overnight, the progress that the kids make.
“When you’re working with them day in and day out over an extended period, you do see that progress, and I think that’s what keeps the majority of our staff coming back.”
Martin, however, knew for a long time that he wanted to be a teacher due to the number of excellent teachers he had in school. One teacher, in particular, inspired him and he decided he wanted to be that beacon of light for other students.
He began his teaching career following his time at Towson University as an education major. After graduation, he went on to teach in a kindergarten classroom where he got to know an autistic student in the class. His interest in special education peaked after noticing the extra attention the student needed to be successful and working with the student throughout the school year.
From there he went on to work at High Road Academy and other schools on the Eastern Shore where he ran a special education program. He soon returned to High Road and took up the position as co-director three years ago.
Every day working with the students at High Road Academy is an adventure. The hard work put into working with their students is always done with the goal of coming up with strategies to bridge gaps and ensure that the kids are successful.
“For our students who have significant academic deficits, it is imperative that they can find and receive a free public education that meets their needs and has individualized instruction that can be provided in a small group setting with low student to teacher ratios,” Pugh said.
High Road Academy is a branch of Catapult Learning, a network of about 5,000 educators teaching in 41 states and 10 different countries striving for academic achievement over all kinds of education needs. High Road is unique in that it takes a holistic approach to education and helping students develop the skills they need.
To add on to the education they receive at the school, High Road Academy also allows 11th and 12th-grade students to take classes at Prince George’s Community College (PGCC). For the last three years, the two schools have had a partnership where PGCC faculty come to the school or the students go there to take classes in hospitality, customer service, information technology and basic Microsoft skills.
When the students successfully complete the six-week long course, they receive a certification in the area they took the class in and can go on to begin working after they graduate from High Road.
As administrators, Martin and Pugh’s great satisfaction in working at High Road comes from the impact they are able to make on the lives of not only their students but on their families as well.
“For a lot of our parents they’ve been frustrated for years dealing with public school systems seeing their child not make progress and not have individualized instruction and things that meet their needs, so the gratitude that we receive from parents and family members is amazing,” Pugh said.
When their students get to the point where they have the opportunity to return to public school or graduate from High Road with a sense of accomplishment, it makes all of the hard work that Martin and Pugh put in daily worthwhile.
“Knowing that the students earned their transition or knowing that they’ve made enough academic, social and emotional progress, that’s always the goal for our kids,” Pugh said. “That’s always our hope, and when it happens, that’s really rewarding. It just confirms that what we’re doing is making a difference.”