Students at Harford’s High Road School serve early Thanksgiving meal to classmates, families

The six students stood behind the tables, wearing their white chef’s hats and black uniforms, ready to serve a Thanksgiving meal to their classmates as well as their families at the High Road School of Harford County.

The annual Thanksgiving dinner, prepared by students and staff, is one of about six community events hosted by the Belcamp school each year and is “the biggest event” out of that group, according to Marc DiPasquale, associate director. He noted that “we can’t do what we do without” support from families and the community.


“This is one [event] that we truly look forward to all year, to bring everybody together,” DiPasquale told guests gathered at tables in the school lunchroom.

High Road School is a “non-public” entity that serves students from first grade through 12th grade. The students, who have special needs and Individualized Education Program plans, have been referred there by Harford County Public Schools, according to DiPasquale.


School officials coordinate with a student’s IEP team to select the proper “learning model” for them while at High Road, according to the High Road School web page on the site of the school’s parent company, Specialized Education Services Inc. of Camden, New Jersey.

Students at High Road receive academic instruction, along with support services, behavior modification strategies and opportunities to learn life and work skills as they make the transition from school to a career.

The group of students who served the Thanksgiving meal Tuesday included individuals who have participated in High Road’s culinary arts program. Students who complete the two-week course can earn a ServSafe certification, which many restaurants require their employees to have if they handle food, according to Chris Tserkis, the school’s transition coordinator who works with culinary arts students.

The students helped prepare the Thanksgiving dinner by assisting with vegetable, potatoes and stuffing prep and setting up tables and decorating to give the lunchroom a “restaurant, homey feel,” according to Tserkis. Faculty and staff handled cooking of items such as turkey — DiPasquale noted he had carved six turkeys.

“I’m blessed to have the students come every day and want to learn something and have a passion for culinary [arts],” Tserkis said.

Student Micah Stevenson does not take culinary arts, but he anticipates taking it next semester after helping to set up tables and boiling water to prepare potatoes and stuffing for the meal. He also helps prepare lunch during school days.

“It’s fun — it feels great,” the 13-year-old eighth-grader said of being part of the Thanksgiving meal prep group.

“He told me he felt like [celebrity chef] Gordon Ramsay,” Micah’s teacher, Tori Pennington, said.

Another one of Pennington’s students, seventh-grader Jacob Renner, also helped prepare and said he enjoyed serving the dinner guests.

“It just feels amazing, because I can help people,” Jacob, 12, said.

Pennington, a middle school teacher, has been at High Road for about a year and a half.

“It was really nice to see [the students] serving the families that came in, and their peers, seeing the smiling faces,” she said.


Jamal Jackson, of Aberdeen, dined with his 8-year-old son, Jaydn. His son, who is in the third grade, has been at High Road for a little longer than a month — he is slated to spend 45 days there.

“It’s a great program for him,” said Jackson, who noted that “we’re going to see how the rest of the days go.”

“It’s good,” Jaydn said when asked his thoughts on the meal; he said he liked the rolls, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans and other items.

“Everything is great, a lot of smiles, a lot of smiles, beautiful faces,” Jackson said when asked his thoughts on the event.

He added that “the teachers are welcoming and warm — open arms — and the food is great.”

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