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High Road School in La Plata on Friday celebrated 10 years of helping students with special needs.

Director Ericho Little opened the celebration ceremony by telling the audience about how he, Tony Clancy and Autumn Kelly began the school in 2003 with eight students.

“To me, it doesn’t seem like 10 years,” Little said. “It seems like yesterday when we started.”

He cited the school’s philosophy: “Building confidence and competence through personalized academic and behavioral interventions.”

Little told the crowd that when starting High Road School, he soon learned the importance of building relationships with others. He also learned that being a man of large stature was not going to make students obey him. He had to learn to be patient with them.

“It doesn’t matter your size. It doesn’t matter what person you are,” Little said. “You have to show these students that you are dedicated to them.”

He added that the goal for students at High Road is not just to earn a diploma, but also to find a path to follow in life after earning that diploma.

He further told the crowd that the school’s anniversary celebrates what High Road was, what High Road is and the heights the school can still reach.

Little said that when he was growing up, schools like High Road did not exist. He saw students end up in prison who would have benefited from an environment like High Road’s.

Student Chaz Smith recited a poem to the crowd titled “Take the High Road,” which illustrated how the school helps him learn despite his behavioral struggles.

Lorene Garner’s grandson, Paul, 18, attends High Road. Garner and Paul’s mother, Yvette Rosas, said they have nothing bad to say about the school that helps Paul learn despite his having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, speech delays and intermittent explosive behavior disorder.

“I love this school,” said Rosas, who added that her son will be enrolled in the school until he is 21.

Students come to the school at various ages from sixth to 12th grades and are able to leave when they graduate the curriculum. High Road currently enrolls 30 students.

High Road School provides students with the same curriculum they would receive in public school, but with more of the individual attention that children with special needs require, school officials said.

“It’s just like a regular high school curriculum,” said Kelly Reynolds, transitions coordinator. ”It’s just smaller classrooms. One-on-one staff.”

At High Road School, students receive “a much more structured environment,” Reynolds said.

Sharon Tayman spoke during the celebration ceremony about how the school has helped her grandson, Michael Tayman, who has bipolar disorder, ADHD, attention deficit disorder and oppositional defiant disorder.

“This school works,” Tayman said. “And it works because of the people in it.”

In the school’s 10 years, Little has served in various positions. Clancy went on to found the first High Road School in Providence, R.I., in 2007, and Kelly serves as director of curriculum and instruction at High Road.

Friday’s celebration brought the three founders together again, and they reminisced about the large binder of training information Kelly had in 2003. Both Little and Clancy admitted to referring to material in that binder in the last 10 years in order to provide students with special needs an environment suitable for learning.

Jonae Adams, 19, attended High Road for four years and graduated in June. She returned for Friday’s celebrations. Public school did not provide Adams with the one-on-one attention she needed, she said.

“It was a good experience,” said Adams of her education at High Road. She added that she plans to go to school soon to become a nurse and that she thinks what she learned at High Road will help her be successful.

According to Reynolds, other female students looked up to Adams when she attended High Road and saw her as an example of who they could become.

“These are kids that often would not be able to graduate if we weren’t around,” said Clancy, who was diagnosed with ADD and dyslexia as a child.

Clancy said that local school districts must provide placement for students with special needs. If the public school system cannot provide what a student needs, then the school district provides funding to schools like High Road. Depending on an individual child’s needs, enrollment at High Road can cost between $20,000 and $40,000 per year.

For more information about High Road Schools, go to www.sesi-schools.com.

rbarnabi@somdnews.com