Justin Holbrook has jumped on the right opportunities all his life. He came to Goucher College to be on the men's soccer team, turned his student-teaching venture into a full-time job, and was named the Baltimore City Teacher of the Year. The experience as the Teacher of the Year aided Holbrook to become Lakeland Elementary School's assistant principal.
Holbrook came to Goucher from Claymont, Delaware, to play soccer. He was a player that could have competed at the Division I level, but wanted to attend a Division III school so he could play right away. After looking at similar Division III schools, Goucher turned out to be the place that would change his life.
"I loved the area, the education department, and felt comfortable when I walked onto campus," said Holbrook. "It felt right, so that is why I jumped on the opportunity."
Holbrook looked to a 1-all draw against nationally-ranked Salisbury on September 23, 2008, as one of his favorite moments as a player. He recorded eight saves against the No. 17 team in the country during that match. In the first game and night game at the new turf field in a 1-0 shutout against Marywood on September 4, 2009, Holbrook made three stops and turned away eight shots in his final collegiate match against Scranton on October 31, 2009. The men's soccer team took a trip to Barcelona, Spain during the summer during his junior year, and he also spent three weeks in Spain as part of one of the first years of the required studying abroad program at Goucher. He was named to the National Soccer Coaches Association of America College Men Scholar All-East Region Team in his final two seasons.
"The overall experience with the guys, hanging out with the guys on the team, having a relationship with them, the stories of the long bus trips, practices, and the grind together is what college athletics is all about," said Holbrook. "That was a very interesting and a cultural shock to live in Spain by myself for one summer, but I learned a lot about myself, and my Spanish improved significantly."
Growing up in a family of educators, Holbrook had sights on his career path at a young age. He was a student-teacher at Roland Park Elementary/Middle School that resulted in a full-time job at the school. Holbrook was a first-grade teacher for three years and a math and science teacher for five years. As a teacher, there are always rewarding moments, but he loves what he refers to as the light bulb moment.
"I remember a student that struggled pretty much the entire year and probably the third to last month of school finally she had a lightbulb moment," said Holbrook. "She was answering questions left and right, and I remember that feeling that we both had that she did it and figured it out. That was a cool experience."
Students having a light bulb moment are rewarding, and something that Holbrook will always cherish. In 2017, he was named the Baltimore City Teacher of the Year. One of the highlights of that experience was that he threw out the first pitch before a Baltimore Orioles 6-5 win against the Pittsburgh Pirates on June 6, 2017. It was also through that circumstance that helped set him up for the next stage of his career.
"I was Baltimore City Teacher of the Year, and through that experience, I was able to connect myself to a program called New Leaders for New Schools. It is a program that is a principal residency program," he said. "I was able to serve as a resident, kind of like a resident doctor, for a year serving underneath a principal for a year."
While Holbrook was teaching for the first seven years of his professional career, he also served as an assistant men's soccer coach for his alma mater. After graduation, Holbrook was living with teammates Tim McMullen and Ryan Martin. Bryan Laut, who is in his 11th season as head coach of the Gophers men's soccer program in 2020-21, was hired after Holbrook graduated. Laut received names of some local Goucher graduates that he could inquire about serving as assistant coaches. Laut did not have to look far after moving into the same apartment complex as Holbrook.
"I always loved the game and wanted to get involved with it, and being able to work for your alma mater and see it grow was a cool experience," said Holbrook.
The men's soccer program went from two wins in its first season together to eight wins in 2014 to notch the squad's first Landmark Conference playoff berth.
"Making the playoffs for the first time in school history was amazing," said Holbrook. "I took a half-day of work school teaching. It was a massive experience, took the bus down, and just enjoyed the overall conference tournament feel. We lost in penalty kicks to Catholic who ranked in the Top-25 at the time. We had a chance and lost in PKs. From where we were his first year winning two games to be able to place Top-4 in the Landmark for the first time and be competitive was pretty special."
Holbrook was a teacher and a coach, and then another life-changing event occurred when he met a teacher in the Baltimore area named Kaitlyn Mcenrue. Holbrook's mother thought her son could use more friends in the Baltimore area and worked with Kaitlyn's uncle. A meet-cute was set up between the two of them despite the two not knowing they had a connection dating back to their college days. Kaitlyn was a student-athlete and a 2009 graduate of Landmark Conference rival Moravian.
"When we first discovered that we went to schools in the same conference, the trash-talking ensued," said Holbrook. "The problem was that we always lost to Moravian when I played, but that changed when I became a coach! We are very competitive people, and now when the two schools play, the house is pretty quiet."
Holbrook proposed in Ireland, and the couple was married in Baltimore on November 25, 2017, to cap off an outstanding year both professionally and personally. With the principal internship program and a new relationship, Holbrook made the tough decision to stop serving as an assistant coach with Goucher as he enjoyed new challenges in life.
Holbrook is now an assistant principal at Lakeland Elementary School in Southwest Baltimore. Kaitlyn is still an outstanding educator as a teacher at KIPP Harmony Academy in Baltimore City while the couple also has an 18-month old daughter named Teagan. Holbrook jokes that he has not set up any officials drills with Teagan, but he has already tried to make her use her left foot when kicking the ball around.
As educators, they have had to adjust to the new normal. Grade schools in Maryland have not met in person since March 18, but the hope is to return to school in a hybrid-virtual learning model on October 18. Holbrook said the spring was emergency teaching and that teachers needed time and space to plan. Holbrook believes that things are improving and is proud of what his teachers and the school have accomplished.
"We have 85 percent of our kids with a computer and internet service, and that is a huge win," said Holbrook. "Our teachers are doing amazing jobs connecting with kids online, building relationships, and doing the same curriculum through a computer. It's a little different. In-person learning is better. I am proud of the way our staff and our leadership team are united together in a collective force to serve our kids in the community."
Holbrook misses the one-on-one connections with the students but stays busy working with the teachers on the curriculum and other duties. He helps run a Genius Bar outside of the school, or as Holbrook refers to as the "Lakeland Geek Squad," that allows parents to ask technology questions. He also looks over the budgets and listens and learns from his teachers to aid in their concerns.
"You don't have the opportunity to build the one-on-one relationships with the students in a more authentic way at the moment," said Holbrook. "It's possible through technology, but it's not the same. There are no organic funny things that happen, and half of them happen in cafeteria duty, but most of the time, it's that fun experience that gets you through things."
Holbrook believes that the educational system takes a village and the educators, parents, and students need to work together collectively.
Holbrook has built his village around his time at Goucher College and has used his opportunities to their fullest. If we all could do the same, we would be #GoucherProud and learn from Holbrook's #GopherGreatness experience!