NAUGATUCK — Robert Hughes was in the Naugatuck High School band room June 19 getting students ready to perform at graduation when he got the news.
“Suddenly I turned around and see all the school administrators standing there. And then I saw the balloons,” Hughes recalled last week.
The 32-year-old was named the 2018 Naugatuck Teacher of the Year for his dedication to music and the students he teaches.
“I guess you could say I have mixed emotions. On the one hand, I am honored and excited to have been selected. But also humbled because there are a tremendous amount of great educators in the district who also deserve this award,” he said.
It could be said Hughes has come full circle. He grew up in the borough, played the trumpet in the Naugatuck High marching band and graduated in 2004. His love of music brought him back to his alma mater in 2011 as a teacher.
“I was fortunate to have had an outstanding experience here in high school music and I want to continue to extend that to my kids now,” Hughes explained.
Saxophonist Jason Pimpinelli, who will be a senior this fall, said he was thrilled to hear the news of Hughes’ award, but definitely not surprised.
“I have been in band all three years with Mr. Hughes and honestly it has been the best time of my life,” Pimpinelli said. “He is the reason kids want to come to band every day. He’s a great person to look up to.”
According to Assistant Superintendent of Schools Christopher Montini, the band and instrument program at the high school is thriving and the number of students participating in the marching band has doubled since Hughes’ arrival just eight years ago.
“Bob is a passionate, hardworking and collaborative teacher. And if you’ve ever been to any musical performance, you’ve seen firsthand the high quality product that is the Naugatuck music program,” Montini said.
Hughes understands that building a good music program starts at the ground level and his “world tour” has him and his marching band visiting every school in the district each year promoting music.
And people can expect to see Hughes and his marching band at every special event in the borough — holiday concerts, the Memorial Day parade, and, of course, home football games.
In addition, Hughes facilitated a performance in Iceland, the US bands championship at MetLife Stadium, and an exchange program with French musicians, which included a trip to France.
Pimpinelli joined his classmates at the airport for the trip to France when he ran into a pinch.
“I had a problem with my passport, but Mr. Hughes sprung in to action and helped make sure I was able to get there,” he recalled.
Pimpinelli was delayed a day, but with Hughes’ help, took a flight the next day and soon was back with the band.
“When I wasn’t able to board, Mr. Hughes stayed back for about an hour then had to rush through security to get on the plane,” Pimpinelli said. “He was there for me on a personal level. Not just for music.”
In college, Hughes co-founded the University of New Haven marching program as a graduate assistant.
Pimpinelli recalls first meeting Hughes during his freshman year and early on thought the teacher was a little uptight and serious.
“But when I got to know him, I found him to be one of the funniest guys I know,” he said. “The thing is he knows when to get things done and he knows when to be light-hearted.”
Pimpinelli said it’s Hughes’ ability to teach music at all levels that sets him apart.
“He’s always willing to spend as much time with students as they need. We would not be able to do it without him. He really knows how to break things down for us,” Pimpinelli said.