Job Title: Co-ordinator of Learning Support and Outreach Schools Principal, Sturgeon School Division
Why He’s Top 40: He is an advocate for mental health among students from kindergarten to Grade 12, ensuring they’re in the right headspaces to succeed in their education.
If you could change one thing about Edmonton, what would it be? Holmes wants to see barriers broken and people get more engaged, whether in politics or in other areas. “When people are engaged in their communities, I think that’s the most powerful way of making change.”
Teachers educate the minds of young students on subjects like reading, writing and arithmetic. But what about the overall health of those minds and their readiness to accept that information? That’s where Thomas Holmes comes in.
For the past three years, Holmes has served as the system psychologist for the Sturgeon School Division, which operates public schools in towns and hamlets north of Edmonton. He counselled students and trains teachers to look out for the signs of mental illness. This school year, he has taken on two new titles: Co-ordinator of learning support and principal of the division’s outreach schools in Morinville and Gibbons.
“Class sizes don’t matter, the curriculum doesn’t matter, unless children in our classrooms are mentally well,” he says.
“You can have the best teacher in the world in the best school equipped with the best technology, but if you’ve got children suffering from anxiety or depression, or have some challenges at home, their basic needs aren’t being met – both from an emotional and a physical point of view – so they’re not going to learn.”
Holmes has been with the Sturgeon School Division for 10 years. While he often deals with some pretty dark issues, it’s the individual victories along the way that keep him going in the field.
“The reward is always seeing someone build the strengths to navigate a challenge,” says Holmes, who also runs a private psychology practice in Morinville. “If we pick someone up and carry them with us, that’s important, but it’s not going to have an enduring, long-lasting change. It’s helping someone feel they have the strength and skills to move through a really tough, challenging time.”
And while he’s doing what he can to improve the mental health of young people, Holmes feels that there’s room for improvement, especially in training teachers to recognize the signs of mental illness.
“If we don’t have that support, we’re losing a really important first-responder cog in a machine that can ensure we can bring in kids that need support and provide them the right supports long-term.”